Interrogating Educational Technology

This is a response to A Call to Interrogate Educational Development for Racism and Colonization, by Jamielle Brooks, Heather Dwyer, and Marisella Rodriguez, in Faculty Focus, April 25, 2022, responding from my professional situation in Instructional Technology.

    • “Is active learning always better; should we, as educational developers, even strive to “discover” a universal teaching strategy?”

No, active learning is usually, but not necessarily always better. The relationship between the instructor and the student should guide the approach and determine the teaching strategy.

My wife works in mental health, and each of her clients is different; she chooses treatment based on their own situation and challenges. Her treatment plan consists of one or more practices she has in her toolkit as a clinician. What works for one client may not work for another.

This goes along with moving from sage on the stage to guide on the side. I also think of coaches–the goal for each player may be the same, but what motivates each might be different. There may be practices and teaching strategies that appeal to all or most of our students, but we can’t neglect those who aren’t inspired in that way.

    • What are the foundational values and priorities of the field of educational development?

The field of instructional technology is relatively young, and professionals are entering it from a wide range of backgrounds. It sits at that dynamic space where learning happens, and focuses on how it can be aided by technological tools. Obviously, technology is of value, and educational software developers may hold their tools up as the highest value. A good instructional tech, on the other hand, knows that education always comes first.

Aside from the primary role of technology, the edtech field has grown atop the foundational values and priorities of education and educational development. Realizing this, I audited our Psychology of Education course soon after getting this position.

      • Who has been included in shaping these, who hasn’t, and why?

Technology, as an industry, has its own mixed bag–part sordid history of sexism, racism, and oppression, part marginalized and oppressed individuals making significant advancements, without getting credit for them at the time. Even now, abuses and built-in biases are discovered and documented. One glaring example, that I’ve had experience with, is the failure of facial recognition systems to identify faces of people of color. Fortunately, we can use a built-in camera app to take the picture, and then upload it, forcing the system to use it. Before I discovered the work-around, it was an awkward and embarrassing occasion to produce an ID card for a new student or employee of color.

    • What is the context in which we’ve gathered the research that is foundational to our field?

An obvious context in which instructional technicians work, and good for us to keep in mind, is the digital divide. Not everyone can afford computers and smartphones. First generation students and students of color are more likely to be on the ‘have-not’ side of that split. Similarly, websites and online systems are predominantly designed for able-bodied people. We must work to include those with disabilities.

Generally speaking, technology has grown from a white supremacy culture. The best illustration of this is IBM, who for a generation set the standard for computing, and the clean-cut workforce to support it.

Telling Compelling and Collaborative Stories with Maps

Associate Professor of Modern Foreign Languages, Mary Anne Lewis Cusato, is delighted to share a co-authored publication entitled “Experiential Approaches to Teaching African Culture and the Politics of Representation: Building the ‘Documenting Africa’ Project with StoryMapJS” with the world.

The article is published in the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, while she and Dr. Demerdash-Fatemi, Assistant Professor of Art History at Albion College, explain the project in a presentation recording, posted to YouTube. Last but not least, the site she and their students created can be found at

Here is a summary of the piece: “In this article, Professors Lewis Cusato and Demerdash-Fatemi show how connecting their courses on immigration and African art through an active, experiential, creative, collaborative culminating project, namely the digital platform called ‘Documenting Africa,’ built with StoryMapJS technology, proved a particularly effective approach for students to satisfy the learning objectives for each class and grapple with those questions at the heart of the courses. In addition, the piece explains each course’s assignments and learning individual objectives individually, united through overarching philosophical underpinnings and objectives.”

Check it out!

Ohio Five CODEX 2020 Summer Institute

A recording of the January 22nd online information session for the Ohio Five CODEX 2020 Summer Institute is now available online at Thanks to Katie Holt and Amy Margaris for sharing examples of pedagogical digital projects they’re currently working on with their students, and thanks to those who joined us over the lunch hour.
If you are considering submitting a proposal for this summer’s institute, please don’t hesitate to contact me or our co-director Heather Fitz Gibbon at We are eager and happy to answer questions or read proposal drafts. Please also consider the folks on your campus who will be excellent resources for help and ideas as you consider a proposal.

Welcome to the new OWU Help Desk Blog!

Introducing a blog for the Help Desk site!

Actually, while a lot of the content here is not new, it is new here.

Content from my old EdTech at OWU professional blog is here. (Sometime soon that old site will be decommissioned.)

Success Stories, long featured on our department landing page, are also here, in chronological order. (They’re typically in random order in the carousel on the other site.)

And there will be new content, such as this post! In the future, look for not only instructional technology thoughts and musings, not only success stories of technology in use at OWU, but photos, tech tips, department updates, and other reflections, from multiple artists and authors.

Plus, comments enabled means dialogue! Let us know what you think. Join the conversation!

We look forward to sharing and collaborating with you.



David Soliday, MDiv, MTS
Instructional Technologist
Information Services
Ohio Wesleyan University

Pronouns: he, him, his

Ohio Wesleyan University


ID Delight

Educational design is shifting from Instructional Design, or ID, to Learning Experience Design, or LXD. That might seem subtle, but it makes a world of difference. It’s still designing toward learning outcomes (LO’s) but paying more attention to the learner’s experience. Far too many traditional courses are top-down, sage on the stage, presentation-style, and you either get it or your don’t. Think of how our shopping experiences have been transformed by’s “You might be interested in…” or “others also viewed…” and instant access to customer reviews and alternatives.

Image Credit: Rawia Inaim. Adapted from:

This shift also represents a more fundamental influence of video gaming, where user experience is everything, on education. One of the presenters in a recent webinar mentioned what he referred to as The Holy Grail of game design: cognitive flow. This is when the difficulty of a task meshes with your own skill level to reduce both anxiety and boredom. Such a state increases focus, enhances our sense of control, inhibits our self-awareness, distorts the experience of time, and imparts the experience of the task being the only necessary justification for continuing it. I’ve experienced this many times while enjoying a good game, and also in school while pursuing a fascinating topic I had just discovered. It’s lengthening the “Aha!” moment into minutes or hours, and, in college education, has the propensity to profoundly change a person’s life trajectory. I found a nice explanation of this at Gamasutra, and wanted to translate it into good learning experience design.

To drive an equilibrium between skill and difficulty, four things must happen in the course.

  1. There must be concrete goals with manageable rules.
  2. Instructors must demand actions to achieve those goals that fit within the students’ capabilities.
  3. Students must have clear and timely feedback on performance and goal accomplishment.
  4. And extraneous distractions must be diminished to facilitate concentration.

Students must have concrete learning objectives and must understand how they are to achieve them. While we all have limits on our information processing and attentional capabilities, students these days are juggling three to five classes, many are working on the side, and striving to build new and/or maintain strong social connections. They’re expected to integrate all of this into some cohesive college career with knowledge transfer between classes and disciplines. Their ability to problem solve and make informed decisions is directly affected by information processing and attentional issues. Clearly defined LO’s with manageable course expectations are achievable, rewarding, and reinforcing to accomplish further LO’s.

Instructors and LXD’s can fix problems with LO’s and rules by thinking carefully about every aspect of the learning experience, from classroom wall decor to mobile LMS app notifications. While students are in a face-to-face class or logged into an online course shell, every element of the environment and/or interface should be geared toward the LO they’re currently working on. Blackboard has a feature, called Adaptive Release, that will hide content until certain criteria that you as the instructor specify are met. Such features or tools can be used to minimize visual stimuli. And the completion of smaller assignments leading up to larger objectives is helpful.

Courses should only demand actions that fit within a student’s capabilities. Stress and performance affect cognitive flow. IF a student is incapable of performing what you consider are basic college-level tasks, get them help ASAP!

(This was composed some time back, probably years ago, and languished as a draft on the EdTech @ OWU blog since then, without being published, until now.)

Prospect Accelerator

Ohio Wesleyan Students Research Nuclear Isotopes

Colin Hawes ’21– along with Dexter Allen ’21 of Delaware, Ohio, and Grace Klausen of the University of Missouri, Kansas City – spent the summer measuring the lifetimes of three rare nuclear isotopes under the mentorship of Ohio Wesleyan physics and astronomy professor Robert Haring-Kaye, Ph.D. In addition to conducting research on the OWU campus, the students traveled to Florida State University for a week to perform an experiment using FSU’s particle accelerator.


Drone Mapping

Ohio Wesleyan Students Help Chart New Courses in Costa Rica

Austin Riegel ’21 and Lucas Farmer ’19 spent their spring break in Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica, after receiving a Theory-to-Practice Grant to conduct research using a drone to map the land to help the community with environmental concerns. Information from the drone mapping can be used to construct plans for resource management and city planning.

I study History because I care about the future.

~ Howard Zinn
Audrey Watters has a nice essay/lecture on Why History Matters, on her Hack Education blog, that goes into detail on the history of the blackboard, (the wall-mounted slate kind, rather than the online LMS kind.) I appreciate learning more of our history, as it’s always eye-opening. I also find myself agreeing with her, more than with the educational technologists she’s arguing against. In one of my seminary classes, I wrote a paper about how the clock had changed life in monasteries and villages across Europe, wherein the days previously had been punctuated by the manually calculated Liturgy of the Hours, based on sunrise and sunset. Once a clock was installed, it attempted to replicate the same natural rhythm, but failed. Now our world and our worship are predicated on mechanical–and now digital–timepieces.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Online Summer Courses Surge

Whether it’s to get ahead or catch up, online courses show the power of ed-tech.

Learn on the go with online summer courses from OWU.

It’s only been a few years since Ohio Wesleyan University introduced online summer courses with the help of a gift from 1954 OWU graduate David P. Miller. Yet, in that short time, the faculty and staff have been able to expand the program to a whopping 27 courses being offered this summer (while only a handful have been offered before). Many professors from a range of disciplines are lining up to take advantage of this fantastic opportunity for students. Student favorites such as Religions of the West (REL 103) taught by Professor David Eastman and Exploring Computer Science (CS 103) taught by Professor Sean McCulloch return this summer.

The courses now being offered online serve as a collective example of the powerful intersection of education and technology. Through the medium, students and professors can communicate effectively and efficiently. Professors may give students video feedback on their assignments, bridging the gap that can occur when a student doesn’t understand a margin note. Online discussions between students happen often via either discussion forum or web conferencing. These discussions give introverted students the chance to speak and empower themselves to learn through conversation. And lectures, either pre-recorded or live, keep the sense of close student-faculty relationships that OWU students know and love. Students taking these online courses can learn and take advantage of a liberal arts education no matter what they’re doing over the summer or where.

It’s clear that the pilot program launched in 2015 has been a massive success. This achievement has come from the teaching abilities of some of Ohio Wesleyan University’s great professors and from the magic of technology.

Other news stories about online summer courses:

A Summer Splash! published on March 26th, 2018

Students Love Summertime Classes To-Go published in the OWU Magazine in Fall ’16

Google Appointment Slots for Easier Scheduling

For simple and efficient scheduling of office hours, professors and students have been using Google’s Appointment Slots feature.

Google Calendar’s feature, Appointment Slots, allows users to share their open office hours with others and accept appointments directly onto their calendars. Users can block out time slots available for appointments under a certain title. Then, others simply need a link to the Appointment Slots web page, which also shows them their own calendars, and they can schedule the necessary appointments.

Among University faculty who use Appointment Slots are Assistant Professor of Economics Dan Charna, Associate Professor of Politics and Government Ashley Biser, and Professor of Education Paula White. Some include a link to their Appointment Slots web page in their email signature to make it easy for students and others to find. Charna says he and his students have enjoyed the convenience and ease that Appointment Slots provide: “It is so much easier than using a paper sheet hung on your bulletin board.”

Professor Charna adds that instead of having students email him to ask for appointments and ending up with a disorganized pile of appointment requests, Appointment Slots streamlines the process into several quick steps. Students can reserve a slot whenever they’d like—any time of the day, night, or week. Once they do so, the slot is blocked out directly on their own calendar. If the professor needs to cancel, the student will automatically receive a notification. The clean interface also allows students to see which slots are unavailable, so professors don’t have to double check their schedules every time an appointment is requested.

Google Appointment Slots is a feature available through OWU BishopApps Calendar and is supported by Information Services, which is happy to help with its use. More information can be found on the Google Calendar Help site.

The Pedagogical Case for Course Websites

For a creative, engaging classroom, OWU professors have been teaching students to use WordPress for class projects

Ohio Wesleyan professors have been happily taking advantage of OWU’s self-hosted WordPress server and the flexible options it allows for creativity and class engagement. WordPress, an open source, online content management system, allows faculty and students to create a website and use it as an engaging platform for sharing information and/or promoting discussion.

Dr. Eva Paris-Huesca has been using WordPress for three of her classes, including “Spanish Conversation Through Cinema” and “Spanish Crime Fiction”, and shares positive feedback about her experience. “WordPress has allowed me to engage students into small group projects (research, reviews, and critical analysis of a play or film), in ways that are stimulating, positively challenging, and audio visually attractive,” Dr. Paris-Huesca says.

She continues to say that some of the best features of WordPress include “its capacity to develop a powerful project which is extremely attractive to an audience” and then easily share the work with others inside or outside the classroom, or add it to their digital portfolio.

WordPress poses a creative challenge to students which motivates them to reflect on the best way to design their project. Simultaneously, they are “learning to use technology in an effective and educational environment” which gives them skills they can later use in a professional setting.

Dr. Paris-Huesca’s students felt compelled to share ideas, and group collaboration increased around the use of WordPress. “Students were comfortable using WordPress and were very excited to share their final projects with a real audience,” she says, adding that she enjoyed being able to see students’ progress in real time and provide feedback.

There are many online platforms for building websites, some of which are free to use. One example is which Professor TC Brown has utilized in his “Digital Media” class, (one example here.) His students create websites for their semester-long projects and add different types of content, from graphics to audio and creative page designs. Professor Brown shares that Wix is easy to use and is a great tool for creative online classroom projects.

While other tools might offer some advantages, since WordPress is hosted on campus, it is fully supported by OWU Information Services, who can provide consultation and training to faculty and students using it. WordPress is also flexible and extensible, with thousands of themes and plugins available for it. As Dr. Paris-Huesca recommends, WordPress is a powerful technological tool for independent or group student projects.

Flipped Learning 3.0

I just attended a webinar presented by Jon Bergmann, author of Flip Your Classroom, and one of the founders of the Flipped Learning Global Initiative. The webinar was expanding on his blog post, “We Didn’t Know What We Didn’t Know: Flipped Learning 3.0“, which is a good read on the current state of flipped or blended learning across the globe. I’ll repeat his key points, with my comments on each one, and you can follow the link above to read more of his own.

Five Things We Didn’t Know about Flipped Learning

  1. Flipped Learning Is Not Static
    • I’ve never felt that flipped or blended learning had to be static, and have always resisted people’s urge to pigeon-holing it. As a Blackboard trainer and digital pedagogy/scholarship consultant, I’ve always pointed out that simply uploading course content into an LMS, making it online accessible to students, is the the first step toward blended learning. Using more of an LMS’ features is getting more into it.
  2. Flipped Learning is Evolving Because of Three Factors
    • Research
      • He cites several studies that have shifted from “Does blended learning work?” to “How can we improve it?”
    • Classroom Innovation
      • This is closely related to the next factor…
    • New technology
      • It’s a constantly changing landscape, with lots of new and/or improved offers every year or less!
  3. Flipped Learning Has Emerged As a Global Movement
    • He’s got several examples of his work around the world. This is truly exciting.
  4. There Is a New Awareness Emerging About Flipped Learning
    • This was the big take-away from the webinar: Educators are no longer viewing flipped learning as a strategic teaching model; instead, they’re seeing it as a meta-platform for various other learning models. It’s becoming more of an operating system, while various learning options are seen like apps supported by it. This is a new paradigm.
  5. There Is a Rapidly Expanding Set of New Possibilities
    • And, of course, this opens up lots of new possibilities for students, teachers, administrators, and edtech people like me. It’s an exciting field to be working in! I hope the faculty and educators I work with also feel the excitement.

I saw glimpses of this at the Ohio Educational Technology Conference last week, and, as usual, got some good ideas and learned of new apps as well.

A strange statue with its face upside down

Testing Amazon S3 for streaming audio

musical notesWe’re looking for another solution for our OWU Radio station’s show archives. They’ve previously been simply uploading them to the WordPress server where we host their site. This has quickly gown into double-digit GB storage usage for their site alone. Before we migrate that site to the new server, which is on our net backup solution, we needed to find some other place to host archived show recordings, which can be up to an hour long, and dozens of MB each.

We first tried Google Drive, because we get unlimited storage there with our G Suite for Education accounts. However, Google can’t scan files over 25 MB for viruses, so it won’t automatically stream anything large. Instead, you have to OK the fact that it hasn’t been scanned.

So we’re trying out Amazon S3 instead. It’s got a free tier with up to 5 GB for the first year. Pricing for storage is ridiculously low after that, and you can pay as you go for only what you use.

And here’s the test:

(Sorry, your browser does not support this audio player. You should probably upgrade your browser.)

We’re also looking into Adobe Creative Cloud storage, since the station already has a CC membership plan…

WordPress Migration journey plods on…

WordPress Logo with WrenchThe OWU WordPress server migration that started over a year ago is moving along. We’ve learned a lot about WordPress and Linux and Apache and PHP along the way.

Currently, there are 41 sites now on the new server and 54 sites still on the old server. We’ve added some new ones along the way, and all new sites created this fall have been on the new server.

The new server enforces httpS encryption, and uses our more secure single sign-on, (at this point only for sites using the URL.) The new server is also more robust, which means that pages should load faster.

So I’m off to notifying more admins that we need to migrate (or archive, or delete) their site.

The Benefits of Blackboard

Politics & Government Professor on the benefits of Blackboard

Ashley Biser finds herself in a unique position as the only OWU professor to have used all of these Blackboard features:

Dr. Ashley Biser

1.    Customized navigation buttons
2.    A course banner
3.    Uploaded content
4.    Announcements
5.    Discussion forums
6.    Groups
7.    Grade Center
8.    Online assessments
9.    Blogs
10. Journals
11. Wikis, and
12. SafeAssignments

“Many professors use some of them,” says David Soliday, Instructional Technologist, “but she is the only one to try everything, and it is having an impact on her teaching.”

“I use Blackboard to take care of a lot of the nitty-gritty work, such as managing data and getting information to students,” Biser says. “Since I teach my introductory course every semester, the Course Copy feature is extremely useful. At its best, Blackboard allows me to do logistical work outside of class, saving in-class time for more important matters.”

Students always are concerned about how they’re doing in a class, and Biser finds that Blackboard keeps them up to date, which relieves their anxiety. “The Grade Center feature saves me interminable ‘What is my grade?’ questions and allows students to keep track of their assignments and progress.

“Particularly in courses where students have to track how many reflection papers or journal entries they have turned in during the semester, Blackboard helps in making sure they have access to that information without having to ask for it. And making a great deal of information available to students electronically saves time—and paper.”

Biser has used the product to enhance student leadership and accountability. “In my PG 110 class, we do a simulation during which students negotiate to write a constitution,” she explains. “It’s a student-driven exercise, and once the simulation begins, students chair each of the meetings. This experience is invaluable in giving students a chance to take on real leadership roles. In the past, I would have to interrupt to make announcement or deliver feedback. These interruptions took time out of the negotiations and, more importantly, undercut the authority of the chair.

“Now,” Biser continues, “I can let the student chair run the meeting and communicate via Blackboard, so I don’t have to interrupt. We also use the discussion page as a kind of news service. I post news events, and the various factions respond to them with their own media releases. Being able to keep the simulation going over Blackboard is crucial for keeping up the energy and allowing me to share feedback with selected groups of students. Otherwise, I simply wouldn’t have the time for this kind of intensive simulation.”

To learn more about how Blackboard can enhance your teaching contact David Soliday or check the Professional Development page for formal training opportunities.


And here we are on a new server home. The only change you should see (other than this new post) is that this site is now secure– with an “httpS” or a lock icon in the address bar.

A nice view

Now we’ve got about 100 more sites to migrate. Approximately 58 of them are faculty or student blogs, or related to student coursework. Our most popular sites get over 300 visits per day. Can you believe it, OWU WordPress will be 5 years old this September!

We’re moving!

This site will be the guinea pig (isn’t there a better image for a test case than a small, cuddly pet?) for our WordPress server migration. If all goes well, you won’t notice any difference, because there shouldn’t be any outage. I’ll be copying everything over to the new server, and if it works, updating the IP address that the custom subdomain points to. Nothing to it. (Heh, heh.)


It seems really odd to be sitting in the dark composing this post while the power’s out in our building and at least one other location on campus. Apparently, our generator is doing its job. I’m still working on WiFi…

Christmas in June

Summer gifts, including an Apple TV commercial about a teenager behaving very unusually…

I just saw this Apple commercial on a website for a COPLAC Digital project. (I don’t watch TV, so I hadn’t seen it before.) I had the honor of attending the COPLAC DLA Summer Institute a few weeks ago as part of a GLCA exploratory team. The institute was great, and their project, based on the success of Century America and other courses, is a strong model of cross-institutional collaboration promoting student research on a glocal scale.

While the ad is cute, with delightful displays of emotion, I must say it’s not an accurate representation of the average teenager’s use of technology. I don’t know, Apple might have received similar criticism when it was originally aired. Most teenagers–and I’m a father of two, with two other children aged out of that bracket–aren’t surreptitiously recording family interactions when they appear to be completely absorbed in their mobile device. Most teenagers, indeed many adults and people of all ages, are actually completely oblivious to what’s going on around them when their attention is devoted to their mobile device. What’s portrayed in the video is highly unusual behavior, the exception, rather than the rule.

That said, the video is an excellent example of what technology can do and how it might be utilized in education. For that reason, it’s worth sharing.