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.