Saturday, November 17, 2012

Change the Paradigm. Now!

Greetings, dear reader and happy happy Thanksgiving week. We have so much to be grateful thankful happy about and daily I attempt to remember and express my awareness that I have been given so much and feel a great pull to give it back.

In the time I have left, I'm trying. I'd like to make a dent in the closing of American higher education to the masses of young people being told they're not smart enough, wealthy enough, or special enough to understand the "boring stuff" (Robinson, 2012) that no longer seems relevant as we drift out of the industrial age. I'm driven in urgency as I see students who love learning be pushed from education by the deadening anaesthetization of self in passive, industrial, factory education.

But, when I talk about this broken broken hurtful paradigm, so many roll their eyes and ask me to say it more nicely, say it with more feminine flair, say it without being heard. It's hard to change a broken machine from the inside, but it matters that I'm here, because this is where our learners put their trust. So here's my latest attempt to soften voice: do it with a brilliant, funny British accent.

Sir Ken Robinson is much more brutal about saying the Emperor has no clothes, but he's so charming no one rolls their eyes or complains. I wish I were charming. I have to settle for determined and persistent. So, in my best British voice I coo "WATCH THIS VIDEO. NOW!"

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Wicked Wicked Wicked Problems for November 6

CC No-Derivs
I've decided that the late-emerging theme of 2012 here at GridKnowledge is wicked problems (see Rittel and Melvin 1972, and Conkel 2005 or heck, just go to Wikipedia). It's what we have  in higher education (HE) as we drag ourselves into the digital age. Problems that are:
tough to understand let alone solve, dynamic/shifting/elusive, no stopping rules, lots of possible paths to solution. 

Another type of wicked comes in the resistance to change we're seeing in so many stakeholders who just want the world to stay the way it was just moments ago. And maybe I should add a third wicked: a new generation of learners (choose your pocket: X,Y,Z, D+, or iGen) that will not have the skills to face the next 15-20 jobs they'll do when they leave the halls of the Academy.

Here, we like to pretend younger learners already "get it" so that we don't have to incorporate technology in our 200-year-old lecture format, but as a technology researcher and an instructor, I can tell you that they don't get it. Sure they FB and FourSquare, 18% of them now Twitter, and they love gadgets. They text and they upload pics taken with their cell phone. Many do so inappropriately and publicly. Many have no idea how to use these digital skills in academic or professional ways. Many don't have the digital problem-solving skills to tackle new technologies and they become frustrated when I ask them to use a new tool. This does not bode well for them when they graduate.

I see most of my colleagues abdicating  responsibility for this lack of preparation in basic  digital literacy. We didn't learn, why should our students? We foster fear and resistance in non-technical students by creating a rigorous hold-the-line defense against technology change or innovation. "It makes it harder for them to learn MY material."

I daily fight processes, policies and people in attempt to infuse needed and exemplary technology into the curriculum. It wears me out, this triple wicked threat to the success of our learners. Some days, I feel that without a supportive and dedicated community of practice out on the Inter-tubes (shout out to: eLearning Guild, WCET,  and NMC) and a boss who will not be deflected from her course, I would call it quits. Other days, the sheer force, speed and power of technology to make learning more accessible, flexible, engaging and affordable sweeps me along as I cry for change.

Often, I forget to look up at a bigger picture of progress as I work day by day, course by course, tool by tool, instructor by instructor, learner by learner. Perhaps big ideas never really solved big problems until a tipping point of one-to one-resistance? So please: resist and promote and cry out! Here's my yelps of the month. I'm sending them out into the digital dark right before our national elections. Hope someone is listening and like a fire fighter's response line, passing the bucket hand to hand until it reaches the fire.

  • K-12: Here in Washington, the charter school initiative is up for a vote AGAIN. Why anyone would want to limit a small experiment (40 schools through out the state) in innovation that allows socio-economically disadvantaged parents a choice, and an ability to help their child, is beyond most of us in educational reform. But there it is. Pass the bucket, get out the vote. Whether you have young children at home, whether or not you're seeking options for children at home, take a stand for change that will make for a stronger, adaptable nation.
  • Higher Education: Closer to home, tuition keeps rising and universities are slow to change in responding to need. This is because our hands are tied. Our elected officials continue to cut support to HE institutions, continue to push students deeper into loans and debt, continue to press a new notion that education is a privilege and not a right. The Obama administration took this problem on with the Education Reform Act, but we need much more. Like most of Europe, China, India - education should be sponsored for those who focus, study, get good grades. The GOP's notion that bright young people in need should just "ask their parents for money" massively misses the mark. Whether or not you have college age children, whether or not you're sitting on a nest egg for the tens of thousands of dollars education now costs, the issue of access is vital to a strong America. Please advocate and vote for reform. Vote for candidates that understand the power of an educated nation. 
Vote for a future where we're not afraid of wicked, wicked, wicked problems.
I'm Colleen Carmean and I approved this public service announcement.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Let's think through the skinny on QR Codes

Quick Response (QR) codes. OK, they're convenient. You see them everywhere now, if you're looking. If you're not looking, you don't notice them or you're so immune to over-information that you don't care. And isn't that the way and isn't that just perfect? Quick for mobile folks with smart phones and no time to type long addresses on tiny keyboards; just a tiny bit of ignorable black ink for the digitally-adverse.  

Brilliant mobile app for a generation that seeks information on the go, when they need it, where they need it. How does it work? We want more information, we find the QR code somewhere on the page or site or billboard or pamphlet or wall, we point our phone and we're online. No surprise that you never see them in higher education, even though we're ground zero of endless information delivery. 

What we are NOT is aware of technology, convenience, mobility, ease of use, or information design. It's why most of our Learning Management Systems still look like the 19th century classroom: the instructor controls the announcements, discussions, assignments, and exams. The students throw themselves into the flow of the information and hope for the best. 

But what if...? (I love that question!) What if we took the simple step of creating QR codes for material we want our learners to access in the near moment and we made it so quick and easy for them to do so that they  increased time on task available by reading course materials on the bus, in a waiting room, between meetings? And what if more time on task (one of Chickering's seven principles!) means better grades?

Wouldn't that be the right thing to do and doesn't it just feel great doing the right thing? If only our intentions and the right thing to do were more closely aligned. So, if the only thing that has stopped you from creating QR codes for your assignments and readings were knowing HOW to do it, here's the skinny on how:
1) Go to a free QR creator site and enter the URL of the page you want to be the target
2) Add the captured image to whatever locations (syllabus, course Web site) will be handy. 
3) Tell your students to search for a free QR Reader app for their smart phone. 

You're done. Here's a nice site that walks you through step-by-step:  How to Create a QR Code. Once you're done, go ahead and find out where the QR code above leads you.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A Research Moment

We're learning more each day about how the world is changing, how HE is changing (or not) and how technology, the Internet, a digital and information age is demanding more of us. For those of you who are passionately following your own profession, and don't have time to track digital world news, here's a few fascinating tidbits from my domain:

The EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR)  Report on Students and Information Technology, 2012 had some interesting findings regarding national move toward student wish and demand for more meaningful technology infused throughout the curriculum:
  • Blended-learning environments are the norm; students say that these environments best support how they learn.
  • Students want to access academic progress information and course material via their mobile devices, and institutions deliver.
  • Technology training and skill development for students is more important than new, more, or "better" technology.
  • Students use social networks for interacting with friends more than for academic communication.
Less hopeful was the report by the Seattle Times and the National Center for Education Statistics on state rankings in going to college and staying there. Washington State seems to lack the  effort and will to see students to completion in higher education. Turns out that educated people MOVE to Washingion (thank you high tech industry), but we make very little effort to educate our own people for the very careers they could stay in Washington to succeed in. Lots of reasons. Read the report and weep. Then, let's get #FiredUp and do something about it. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Good advice, Given quickly

September. Blogs are about pondering, but the beginning of Autumn quarter leaves little time for pondering... despite pondering being my favorite pastime. OK, a new year at University of Washington Tacoma leaves little energy for pondering or pastimes. It is, as the word describes, past. For a time. This month, the new year on our schedule, we work! 

Classes started Monday, and yesterday I served hundreds of hot dogs to students at an event on campus called "Hot Dogs from the Top Dawgs." A fun way for the students to see that their administrators (aprons, hair nets, slimy gloves) are human. So very human, one of them gave me a cold and my head feels the size of a pumpkin.

Thus this short post is a simple hurrah sent out to the Rapid eLearning Blog for it's short, brilliant reminders regarding the heart, soul and sweetest of practice in learning design. The brilliant Tom Kulman reminds us this month (Guiding Principle) not to let previous classroom learning design dictate eLearning design. Doh! I knew that, but it's so very easy to fall into the habit of teaching the way we taught, designing the way we learned. Tom reminds us:

Instead of being intentional about the instructional and visual design of the course we allow the existing content to determine how we build it. What we should do is take a step back, think about general course design, and then map our content to the design that’s appropriate to the course objectives.

What better advice to begin a new academic year? Do the right thing, not the thing you did before. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Future so bright, we gotta wear shades

Beginning of a new semester, pressed pressed pressed for time and little time for reflection, but at the end of the day what's a girl to do but troll Twitter (@carmean) for what my peeps are thinking and reading. A link that's showing up on lots of posts today is "10 Emerging Education and Instructional Technologies that all Educators Should Know About (2012)". 

Why? It's right on. Great choices, stepping out on the edge of what a lot of us are thinking about regarding game-changers in thoughtful incorporation of tools and practices that improve learning. 

  • Flipped Classroom (STOP lecturing!)
  • Tablet devices (Apps: Micro-chunked content; applied cognitive research)
  • Smart phones (Mobile means learning everywhere)
  • Gamification (Who doesn't love a low-risk challenge?)
  • MOOCs (No duh?)
  • BYOD (Bring your own device; Leverage the ROI of learner-ownership)
  • Student Response Systems (Ask them what they know.)
  • Cloud services (Bigger, better, cheaper, more stable than DIY servers)
  • OER (What makes more sense than collective knowledge, free and shared?)
  • Learning analytics (If you read my work, you know I think they saved the best for last. The machine knows. Let it help us assess our learners. Let it enhance persistence thru data.)
Read the article. Wear shades. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Informal Learning: What next?

I know I've mentioned informal learning networks before, and how easy it is to learn when not in the classroom. (Ouch). New pedagogy research has been exploring why this is so, and how we can change the way we teach to better leverage self-regulated, self-paced, engaged learning. UWT is leaping into this conversation with pilots of Google Apps, blogs, Twitter, Persistence Plus and more to connect to students to each other and the outside world for deeper learning. Not just schooling, but relevant and applied learning. 

Pick up the book Informal Learning to learn more about the difference, or take heed of the author (Jay Cross, the "Johnny Appleseed" of informal learning) when he says:

It’s easy to poke fun at the foibles of schooling. Learning is active and most schooling is passive. What’s taught in school is often superficial, boring, and irrelevant. Since school learning isn’t reinforced in real life, most of what’s learned is forgotten before it can be put to use. Could you pass your college’s final exams? Grades that once seemed so important turn out to be meaningless outside of school systems.

Ok, perhaps he has a point. Memorizing facts from a textbook and spitting them back in APA format isn't the stuff our learners will remember five years from now. They'll remember the ideas that changed them. That awakened new understandings, interests, identities. Schooling can leverage this by starting with those ideas and digging deep. Leverage the Web, leverage media, leverage collaboration, leverage the creation of public opinion and identity (blogs, wikis, YouTube posts, Twitter?) in the learner. Teach them to be global citizens. Get their heads out of the dry textbook and into the world. 

There's a million ways to do that. One that I find lovely, and so simple to incorporate, is TED. As it grows, more disciplines find their brightest minds showing up to do a talk. Take a look. Here's 2012's Top 20 Talks (so far). 

Wouldn't it be fun to have our learners create their own TED talk on the Web? Passion in 10 minutes or less.   I'd much rather see them try than grade 5=page, APA format papers. Just sayin...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Paracosm of Higher Education

David Brooks may not be everyone's favorite op-ed columnist, especially when he takes on higher education, but this week he's writing about the tremendous power of the particular. He speaks to politicians wishing to be everyman - or every voter's man - and makes the claim that it doesn't work.  Look to the particular, even if it means losing a few votes. At least the ones who relate to the choices you make will be there for you.

Brooks talks about the pull of paracosms. I had to look it up, and found it's "a fantasy world invented by children; can have a definite geography and language and history; fairyland, fantasy world, phantasy." Brooks plays with the definition in talking about the New Jersey that Bruce Springstein created in his music. A world now more real to us fans than anything we'd recognize as the "real" New Jersey.

People love their paracosms, whether they be Hogwarts or Thunder Road. My colleagues in higher education, they love the lovely, mythical, magical place we invented and share in our minds and conversations. The quiet, reflective, slow, thoughtful places where a few, privileged students sit at the feet of the wise and tweedy and listen in rapture. I love that paracosm. I'm old enough to remember that place. I believe it still exists, not just in our minds, but at places like Harvard and even at University of Washington Seattle, where the wealthy and very smart are educated.

If you're not wealthy or very smart, you may cling to the paracosm but you can't live there. It's a fantasy. The reality is much duller, tougher, more expensive (from your perspective and income bracket) and not very flexible to your work schedule. But, and here's the crux of this post, even if we can't live in a fantasy world, we CAN shape the real world to be a place where we are happy and our needs are met. It would just mean that the reality of our learners come closer to matching the desperately held paracosm held in the minds and hearts of higher education. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tegrity on the march

Across higher education, my colleagues are telling me that their campuses are embracing site licenses for Tegrity, the lecture capture software. What could be more valuable in maintaining a status quo when all around us is changing than lecture capture? Students beg us to stop lecturing, start embracing the digital age and we twist their words into weapons. Use technology to ward off change and keep our "sage on the stage" culture alive for another 400 years. It won't work, but it doesn't stop us from trying.

Here at University of Washington, we just purchased a site license for all faculty to use Tegrity to record their lectures. Prepare for an onslaught of talking at students. But don't blame Tegrity. Technology does not define use or pedagogy, pace Donald Norman and his brilliant work on the ways use is embedded in design
We do NOT have to record our lectures in an age when all evidence suggests that being talked at is not how the majority of students learn best.

What if we used the license not to lecture, but to engage and encourage participation. Well, Tegrity put on a users' conference in Seattle recently - local, allowing a number of creative instructors and academic technology staff and designers from UW to attend - and guess what? There were some great ideas on re-imagining the use cases for internet-posted event delivery and recording. 

Take a look: Tegrity User Conference recordings (Seattle, April 2012). 

And just imagine: office hours that students can attend from anywhere, Khan Academy-like bits of micro-explanations. Thoughtful reflections, summaries, new practices. Check it out and imagine!

PS: As always, the UW Bothell folks are thinking about use cases, research, possibility. Check out their Tegrity page too. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Happy, adventurous Towel Day!

To all my friends and colleagues in higher education who are adventuring into eLearning, new literacies, personal learning environments, flipped lectures, new ways of knowing and assessing and producing knowledges -- here's just a snippet of why we're wearing towels:

“I've come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that's invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.” 

--Doug Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

With many more compiled at Goodreads but you're missing much if you haven't read EVERY book on the list. So, Happy Happy May 25, Towel Day, when we honor the incredible, adventurous, technology-loving and science-gone-mad work of Doug Adams. Where fans and admirers around the world wear a towel and pledge to honor Doug's most important contribution and meme for the digital age: "Don't panic!"

Indeed,  Don't panic! Don't get distracted by villains and evil-doers.  And bring a towel. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Light Summer Reading?

Hope and fear are running rampant on campus this week as we hurtle toward finals, commencement, the end of another academic year. Faculty aren't quite ready to think about anything except the finish line, but I thought I'd get this quick post up regarding an excellent list at EDTECH regarding their choices for 50 Must-Read Higher Education Technology Blogs

Granted some are geeky, and filled with excitement regarding topics that only a network architect could love, but those are few as HE becomes increasingly more focused on what society reminds us is a core mission: learning, relevancy, and evidence of value. 

So, you'll find some great, innovative, challenging, leading/bleeding-edge topics in EDTECH's list of 50. Plus, their list is nicely annotated to weed out the geeky and point you in the right direction for the kinds of topics of interest to you. I found a few new ideas, as well as some thoughtful work on topics now being given serious thought in my corner and keeping me awake at night space: access, evidence, retention and graduation rates, digital and visual literacies, emerging technologies and their affordance in reinventing education  for a rapidly changing world. 

Great reading throughout the 50. Grab your favorite mobile device when you're at the shore, cabin or a lounge chair, couch or quiet spot in the shade this summer. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Increasing Student Retention in Online Courses

Just passing on a very nice post on retention and new pedagogy inherent in online learning. It's written by a woman with a lovely name: Jennifer Golightly. She blogs at Pearson and backs up her ideas with research. 

I guess that I agree with 99% of her post, but here's a thought: perhaps it misses an important mark in suggesting that new pedagogy will look much like the traditional classroom experience if/when rich in discussion, peer interaction and feedback. OK, true enough, according to the research, but online interaction can be so much more. 

Yes, student-student interaction and student-teacher contact creates better engagement. But so does the learner's interaction with the ever-smarter (and patient) machine, as well as with an institutional support structure largely ignored in current online course design.

The movement in learning analytics demonstrates that the machine can be watching, looking for patterns, looking for key moments for feedback and interaction. If retention matters more than tradition in higher education, we're going to see external support structures incorporated into these moments.

For instance, The University of Washington Tacoma is now in a pilot collaboration with Persistence Plus  to see if online math students can benefit from behavioral interventions and support, delivered via their chosen devices and mobile platforms, integrated with course performance and whole-student support. Golightly is on target in stating that retention efforts rest in the course AND at the institutional level. For online students, what those efforts should look like is still to be determined. 

We Should Talk

We should talk. My ex would start to sweat when he heard those words.  He knew I was adverse to confrontation, argument, discord...and thus it takes a lot for me to confront hostility. Now, this may surprise some who know me, but that's because there's a difference between healthy disagreement and discord. I love a good argument, and it's probably why I chose a lifetime in the Academy. I love it when someone is willing to change my mind. People here are willing to argue, passionately and with great civility, about anything

How many angels dance on the head of a pin, the kind of bug Samsa became in the Metamorphosis, how assessment is different than evaluation. Sometimes, the civil piece can give way to the passion, and nowhere is this more painfully felt than when we are asking the Academy to make a change. 

“When someone is trying to do something new and innovative in higher education, 
often it’s met with a ‘Deny-Decry-Delay’  energy.”
-Jeff Young, Tech Therapy at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Working in eLearning, my coping strategy in the face of discord ("OK, I'm going into my room and shutting the door. Let's talk about it when we're both calmer.") has served me well. I slide off into the online environment and quietly keep doing what I'm doing while some stand on the outside, pound on the door and insist I come out to be beaten about the head. I turn off the lights and work by the glow of my monitor.  

If spoken softly,  I'll happily take on the fighting words mired in old values held sacred: culture-discussion-lecture-worries over plagiarism and cheating-fear of being replaced by the machine-death of the soul in the modern age. Sure, let's talk about it. Let me show you soul and joy and engagement online. But get crazy, or disparage online learners, and I'm out of the room quicker than you can say administrative-plot--about-the-money--hallowed-halls--tradition.

We should talk. There is a train a'coming, and it WILL bring eLearning in one of the cars. And it WILL bring assessment and accountability and access and learning-centered technologies. And it WILL bring an awareness of big data (see Carmean & Mizzi, 2010 for our Nudge Analytics case approach). And it WILL bring analytics innovation, no matter how excellent the credentials of those who argue for the beauty and the sanctity of the classroom.  (Listen to Gardner Campbell's passionate counter-argument here, along with Jeff Young's above observation.)

I do love passionate, smart, thoughtful counter-arguments to my approach. It makes me smarter and more passionate and it tempers and changes me. But it never deflects me off my course. And when the old, wealthy, well-educated members of the Academy ‘Deny-Decry-Delay’ education for other than the students who look like them, I think of Sidney Poitier lovingly speaking to his father in that moment from Guess Who's Coming to Dinner:

CC: Non-Commercial Columbia Tristar
"You don't know how I feel, what I think. And if I tried to explain it the rest of your life you will never understand. You are 30 years older than I am. You and your whole lousy generation believes the way it was for you is the way it's got to be. And not until your whole generation has lain down and died will the dead weight of you be off our backs! You understand, you've got to get off my back!"

Of course, the time is not far off when someone will say these words to me as I attempt to protect what I now hold dear. Change is inevitable, but my time to do the right thing for the right reasons is now. We should talk. 

Fair Use Stays Fair

Just a quick post, in case you haven't heard, regarding the litigation brought by Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press and Sage Publications -- with backing from the publishing industry (shame on them all) -- against Georgia State University and their e-reserves. The federal courts rejected 94 of the 99 instances cited by the publishers as copyright violations and basically told them to go take a hike.
Fair Use in academics is just that, and the money being made by specialized scholarly and textbook publishers fighting Fair Use in the digital age is scandalous. So when instructors hold the line, honor Fair Use, find and make scholarly material for their courses available? It's great that GSU backs them up, goes to court, and wins.
Another good day for the good guys. Read more at Inside Higher Ed. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Drawing the line on eBooks

Publishers refusing to sell eBooks to public libraries? Really? Granted publishers are now in the same pickle as medicine, much of the industrial sector, and even higher education. Times change, technology accelerates that change. You don't want to change, but you have to change. 

Publishers love eBooks when it means a new, increasing readership. But they want it all, don't want to seriously imagine their own change, and are getting especially greedy where public libraries and those who NEED our libraries are concerned. 

Most Americans can now buy a Kindle for as little as $79 and easily access the public library eBooks, free Google and public domain books, massive online help downloads, etc available via this new technology. eBooks offer unprecedented value to the home-bound, to busy workers, to those with limited transportation, to those working odd hours, or just someone looking for a just-in-time read when they finish their last book. Our libraries are moving rapidly to understand this affordance and leverage it for the public good. 

And the publishers? They want it all, as much as they can shove into their pockets, and are beginning to deny public libraries the right to lend e-Books. I wish I knew what to recommend to stop them. Don't buy their books? I can't do that, can't say that, can't go there. Cut out the public library middlemen and steal e-books? I can't say that either. I love writers and they are caught in the cross-fire. But, here's what Salley Shannon, the president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors has to say: 

"Denying public libraries eBooks is so mean-spirited, so unreasonable, so against the grain of American tradition, that it will surely backfire if anywhere near a majority of publishers do it. Stealing eBooks will become a laudable way to fight back, done with no pang of conscience whatever."

Yikes! Here's her full letter. 

When writers believe stealing books will become a laudable act, we know the system is broken. And who has the tools to fix it?  There's no Amazon, Apple or Google to enforce muscle in keeping a bridge across the digital divide the way they have with music and personally-owned e-literature (Apple: .99 cents or we shut iTunes down; Amazon: control the cost or you don't Kindle-book here; Google: digitizing the literary public domain for all and fight in court anyone who tries to stop them.)

I do understand how frightening it is to see your industry change. As we move from an industrial to a digital age, we are all - everyone - facing challenges and fears. But the trend of turning on backs on people of need to keep our own customs and habits? Too many (medicine, higher education, industry going off-shore) have taken that path and it's time to back up, and go down a new road. Publishers, back up. Right your path or you will be creating a rebel nation of book thieves. Consider yourself warned. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Painting on a Brand New Canvas

University of Washington chooses its next generation learning managment system!
Well, the contract hasn't yet been signed and details on production-level-services still to come, but the news is out that the University of Washington will soon have a true, centrally supported LMS:  Canvas by Instructure.

Hurrah! Huzzah! Yippee.
Yes, it's been such a long time that most programs in Seattle have something under the IT guy's desk (Moodle, Blackboard, Sakai...) and the Tacoma and Bothell campuses both support Blackboard, but it's anticipated that most of these will fade and expire as UW puts great resources into support of Canvas as its enterprise LMS.

No more home-grown cacophony of tools! Course auto-enrollment! Smooth final  grade transfer!  Single-source UW NetID authentication!  Just these administrative functions will make our lives easier.

But that's not why we're finally moving forward on a central LMS. Sometimes you do something because it's the right thing to do. Thoughtfully choosing the best possible LMS for UW teaching and learning was the right thing to do.  Canvas was chosen over a number of possible vendors and the two quarter pilot project found this open environment to be a stable, accessible, innovative platform with rich, context-embedded help files and social tools for learner and instructor. Hooray!

But it's still just a set of tools and now the challenge is to invent rich, technolog-infused learning - anytime, anywhere, anyone - from those tools.

Thus, the hard work begins: thinking about teaching and learning in a digital, social, internet-defined age. It will take awhile for UW to get Canvas set up here (Fall? Fingers crossed), but if you want to learn more now, the Canvas help files we linked to for the UW pilot are live. I'm guessing the page will stay around until we have a production site. Meanwhile, some deep discussions will be taking place in the Faculty Resource Center regarding using Canvas features and tools - embedded and embeddable - to create deeper, more meaningful learning.

Explore. Have fun. Get ready to be amazed.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Everything that rises must converge

Spring is in the air at the University of Washington, Tacoma! Today, as we cross our fingers that March will continue to gambol out like a lamb, we find our spirits lifting. The sun is out and lovely flowers have begun to bloom in unexpected places. Today is also the first day of Spring quarter, and once again we sharpen our digital pencils, open new smelly markers and
"...Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines!" 

In this spirit, let's talk about hope, change, innovation, transformation, and the kitchen sink. Let us rise and converge!

CreativeCommons flickr photo from farhadfarhad
Last week, I attended a two-day, three-campus retreat on Redefining Higher Education. It was the learning-focused continuation of a larger, week-long Innovation Forum put on by UW Bothell, a campus 20-some miles to the north. Redefining higher education? Really? Embracing creativity, change, and innovation in higher education teaching and learning? Really?  Seems almost a string of gibberish oxymorons, no? 

This beautiful, ancient, unchanging, hegemonic institution redefined? The horror! Banish the thought! If it worked for our nation's richest and most powerful forefathers - then dagnabit - it should work for their off-spring today. And here's the thing: it does. Harvard graduates 97% of its undergrads in 4 years. UW Seattle, rejecting more than half of its applicants, graduates 75% within six years. (That's a great figure, by the way. Other HE institutions in Washington are closer to 50% and Washington rocks compared to other states.)

Children of the rich, powerful, and well-educated do well in college. Others often rise and converge in a mess of debt, sorrow, boredom and rage. And these latter learners, the new majority in most HE institutions, are the learners that UWB wanted us to think about in our two-day Spring break retreat. These are the students of Bothell and Tacoma. These are the 25% who drop out at UW Seattle or the 50% that Seattle turned away. The majority of students now pounding on our walls for access previously reserved for the few, the privileged, those not destined to be marines.
What would it take to create an engaging, deeper learning experience for the new learner? What would it take to move a ship larger 
than the Titanic (and in as much danger) toward more innovative blue ocean waters?

SKUNK WORKS?" one aged administrator replied. Those who have been around awhile know that the institution will attempt to kill innovation (and the innovators) every step of the way. It's the inherent biology of large organisms: the larger the organization, the stronger the need for self-preservation as is and the more resistant to change. (Hence Christensen's notion that disruptive innovation must come from the outside; hence participants of the retreat agreeing one must start small and be silent/serpentine/sly; hence most agreeing that Bothell and Tacoma had better chances for success.) 

 So, if I were to sum up two intense days of deep conversation on saving our ship...or at least saving the passengers for whom there are no row boats:

  • Believe. Change happens when people within the organization believe it is possible. 
  • Take lots of small chances. The military floats change through support for quiet, pilot projects. If it works, there's better chance of wide-spread adoption.
  • Keep your eye on the prizestudents who have the skills to be successful in the workforce, in civic affairs, in their own lives.
  • Diversify, select, amplify. Back to the metaphor of the organism: this, claimed one participant, is how we survive. Time to diversify.
  • Be fearless. If you do it right, you will fail. Often. Cultivate failure (the right kinds), cultivate collaborators, cultivate a small, vibrant culture of the imagination. 

And that's how we will redefine higher education. One step at a time, one risk at a time, one online program, one adventurous course, one implementation of analytic awareness, one embrace of Khan Academy or Livemocha or Persistence Plus or Google Scholar - Google Apps - Google Sites - Google Whatever. Embrace Wikipedia (the disdain for this wonderful democratization of knowledge by HE would astound outsiders) and flickr's visual ways of knowing and ANY crowd-sourcing and collaboration tool used in the creation of knowledge. Just do it, the folks at Nike say. Do it before "the beards" (as they're called here at UWT) know that you did it. Just get it done.
Joyous Spring! Here's to hope and rebirth and wonder.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pi Day! Einstein's birthday! Joy and gratitude for math

...and let's not forget gratitude for math teachers.

And for the anonymous cartoonist whose backward-thinking graphic went viral this year. Thank you interwebs and tubes and collective shared learning. Thank you for geeky math humor. Oh beautiful world that makes sense, thank you for Pi.

OK, let's stop eating our 3.14 pieces of strawberry rhubarb (to infinity!) and talk about America. We're slipping. Evidence is everywhere that we are not competing on the international stage and that many students that struggle with math courses in middle school later drop out. What's happening when in China and India high school students traditionally take calculus and in the US, that course is reserved for 13% of our high school population? Math education is so poor right now that here at University of Washington Tacoma, more that 50% of our entering students don't even test successfully into college-level math courses. They are sent away, to community college, with fingers crossed they do the work and eventually return.

Some say the sports and organized extracurricular-activities we pressure our students into here in the US distracts them from study. Some say the answers are to water down the curriculum for US students so as not to damage their self-esteem or interrupt their after school party time.

Biology, chem, physics? Same story. High school requirements here are a shallow one year. In India and China? They study these subjects EVERY year. My humble opinion is that we demand more science, less modern dance. No wonder our young athletes, Glee-kids, and martial artists  do so poorly in college. They hardly studied in high school. Or middle school.

Some make the case that our well-rounded and "everyone is perfectly the best" educational approach defines more creative, innovative, entrepreneurial souls and this will be America's edge. Resume for the new millenium: stupid but creative; lazy but not a follower; no quantitative skills but great amateur jump shot.

Some make the case that in a technology age, let technology do what parents and teachers can't: keep the kids in their seats engaged in learning math. Bless you Sal Khan for attempting to do just that. Let's celebrate Pi Day by thinking deeply about how to act on evidence that some learners will stop, think, learn math if we give them the right tools.

Now, let's move Khan Academy into the high schools and colleges and graduate the next generation of scientists, mathematicians and glorious, geek-humor loving nerds. Happy Pi Day!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Times they are a-changin': Horizon Retreat

No organization maps the changes in these crazy times more thoughtfully than the New Media Consortium, authors of the Annual Horizon Report on emerging technologies in education. I do believe Horizon Report 2012 is due to be released in the next few weeks, at the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (look for me there!) but if you can't wait, take a look instead at what NMC was up to last week.

One hundred thought leaders from across higher education, museums and industry gathered together to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Horizon Report by thinking deeply for three days (ouch!) about the future of higher education, and how technology might bring us closer to a vision that is:

  • global, 
  • open, 
  • mobile, 
  • based in the cloud, and 
  • creates new kinds of literacy (digital, visual, collaborative) 
Here's the summary, with a nice, short pdf report on meta-trends ahead for higher education. They call the summary report a communique, with accent aigu and all the global trimmings. (It made me feel so fancy to download it. Not just a white paper, but a Francais white paper!)

It has much that is "Sky is blue, babies need milk" for those of us who have been saying same for years, but it's well said and will hopefully be the foundation for a number of rich conversations at ELI in a few weeks.

If you're there, come to my talk with McGee and Morgan on the "Upside-Down Learning Model." I promise to talk about the communique in my best Parisien accent.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Social Media in (a small part of) the Academy

Speaking to a colleague recently, she mentioned how technology at her Research 1 institution is changing the classroom. Not technology in FRONT of the class, nor technology acknowledged FROM the front of the class, but technology in the back (and middle) rows. Students who don't understand the professor are now putting in their ear phones and Googling the topic, looking for someone or some text that can explain what the instructor does not. They're setting up chat circles and exchanging information and explanations. They're seizing the knowledge in what my friend describes as a reshaping of the "authority of knowledge." When did this happen?
Instructors in smaller courses are retaliating. Ages ago we banned cell phones and texting, but now some are adding laptops to the banned list. No smart phones, no tablets, no laptops. "No knowledge for thee that is not from me." When did this happen?
I can't start my old rant regarding how change will happen with or without us. How society is asking for us to change: students with their ear plugs, parents with their rage, government with their cutbacks in funding, and society with its call for accountability. I can't go there. It makes me too sad. Instead of thumping that drum (again) I'll lead you down a more optimistic road: social media in our own research and scholarship. A significant body of the academy is discovering what their students have long been calling from the back rows: technology is rocking the academy. In a very good way.
But don't believe me. Check out this digital e-resource on the topic:

The (Coming) Social Media Revolution in the Academy