Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Banning Devices from the Classroom

A Surprising Post from Me (and Clay Shirky). 

I love technology: my desktop, laptop, tablet, iPad, smart phone. GPS Wi-Fi Bluetooth. Apps, software and the internet of things. Devices and software that know me, inform, nudge, update and adjust. 

I Google this and Google that, especially the new functions that support instruction and learning in higher education (Apps, Scholar, Drive). They make me a better teacher and my students more prepared digital citizens, critical thinkers, consensus-based team members. Love it all. 

But I'll be the first to admit that I have an advanced "monkey mind" when my devices beep, bing and buzz. I am easily distracted from hard, deep thinking by the lure of the next info-moment. I can disconnect from the present due to the lure of what I'm missing out there. I have learned to set boundaries and close my email, silence my devices, be here now when attempting to do good, hard work.

Mindfulness matters. I know this about myself and I have the age, wisdom, commitment to my work to do that. (Most of the time.) My students do not, for a diverse variety of reasons. One reason is that "learning" is not their career passion. Another is that my course may not be as exciting to them as it is to me. Maybe they don't have practice in disengaging from the digital. So they come to class with monkey mind. 

I've been aware of this for years, and adapting my teaching for years as a way of integrating their own technology into the curriculum. But while some are Googling the topic, answering my polls, collaborating on the shared notes -- others are checking Facebook and texting in their laps and our course is the less for their moment-to-moment absence. 

We can stop the monkey madness. Here's Clay's take on doing so: ban laptops, tablets and cell phones from the classroom. I concur.

Image CC BY-ND from

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I Heard the News Today, Oh Boy

That Beatles song keeps playing in my head as I read news about education, debt, public policy and the general modern-day miseducation of America.

In Seattle, 100 or so K-12 teachers known as the Badass Teachers Association - aka (crazy as) BATS - marched on the Gates Foundation last month. They decided Bill Gates is personally responsible for holding them responsible for student performance on tests. They're mad as BATS, free for the summer, and want  Bill (who has little say in proposals funded, but a public name and lots of money) to butt out in funding innovation proposals. (We don't need no stinkin' innovation.) They pooled money from somewhere to bring in keynote rabble-rouser Anthony Cody ("we hate STEM") from California as there doesn't seem to be enough rabble in the PNW. Bless their hearts for effort.

At the same time, in Tacoma, my colleague - the brilliant and thoughtful Ingrid Walker - led a discussion at the Grand Cinema after the viewing of The Ivory Tower. The documentary, and discussion, brought out a calmer, more diverse and less rabbly crowd. While focusing on hard topics explored in the film (cost, value, disruption, the new loss of trust by society in HE), the audience seemed aware that answers will only come out of very good, hard questions. But also that change is already in the wind, and it's bringing on a storm.

Part of the storm, I believe, comes from people who don't want to think deeply and simply to blame. They ask questions that have the power of a slammed door: Who stole my lovely past? Who moved my cheese? Who let these low-brow, underachieving, non-elite, in-debt learners into college? Why can't we go back to the way it was before technology? What the hell is a MOOC really? Oh, and why doesn't Sal Khan just shut up about the value of personalized learning?

Interesting questions, all. Won't get us anywhere. The reality is that we have left behind a golden past in the industrial age. A past where lock-step schooling was good enough to prepare poor kids for good, dull factory jobs. It paid the bills, bought small homes, and even sent (some, maybe) of their children to college. That doesn't work anymore and everyone from BATS to Bill Gates knows that. Despite/pace Diane Ravitch's empire and its claim all is hunky-dory, we have to do better. We have to change, to prepare for a knowledge age, to create affordable and achievable education for all, and educators have to stop whining about how it will inconvenience us to do it.

Just do it. Just "do the work" as my friend, sociologist Debra Friedman repeatedly said. I hear her voice in my head all the time. Especially when reading the news today, Oh Boy. Do the work.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Who Gets to Graduate?

Rich kids. That's the bottom line. If you come out of a 2-parent family, went to a decent school, got mid-range SATs, then you'll be fine. But smart kids that come from disadvantaged backgrounds? Well, not so much. 

Multitudes now enter our higher education system, take out financial aid, and then wander away disheartened, distressed, and disappointed in themselves. Why, you ask? That's a hard question, and the ways of talking about it are legion, but I'm going to make it easy: higher education mostly doesn't care. We want learners to learn the way we learned; we want to blame them for lack of "persistence," faulty "self-motivation," and poor "self-discipline." Those students who don't have grit? Well, they didn't really belong here. 

I was in a webinar/short course, hosted by Dr. Patricia McGee and presented by EDUCAUSE/ ELI, when my heart cracked. Patricia presented research by Stanford-Bowers (2000) on retention factors in online experiences as perceived by three groups in a Delphi-modeled consensus exercise. Bottom line: we think it's the learner's fault and the learner thinks it is about flexible, engaging, relevant, responsive course experiences. Koyaanisqatsi; life out of balance. 

Provided by Dr. Patricia McGee, based on work of Stanford-Bowers, 2008

It doesn't have to be that way. Instead of asking a new generation of Americans going to college to be different, to create their own safety nets, to suffer - we could change change. We could care more. They're trying it at UT Austin, learning to care, learning to change who gets to graduate with surprising results. 

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?