BlendKit Reading response for Week 4

This week’s topic is blended content and assignments, another good reading. I liked the emphasis on integrating the online and face-to-face components of the course to make one, seamless experience for the students. There was a helpful discussion of learning activities with and without technology. I’d say the many apps and sites and services under the heading of Technique (How) only scratched the surface of what’s out there. In fact,, an outliner site/service, was mentioned on NPR on Monday.

In other, synchronicitous news, there was an article in Science Magazine reporting that lectures aren’t just boring–they’re ineffective. Active learning trumps passive learning any day. The more the brain is engaged in the process the better it learns.BlendKit Course Badge

And it was good timing that I also attended a Blackboard webinar on badges today. Lots of ways to make learning more engaging and active and rewarding! I’ve actually earned 12 badges so far in this MOOC, and one of them is displayed above. Badges may now be awarded in Blackboard too, and our OWU Blackboard is currently getting an upgrade to Service Pack 14 (all the way from SP 6!) Come fall, I’ll be doing a lot more to promote the use of Blackboard features to make courses more blended and more engaging.



Are Liberal Arts colleges insulated from current higher ed trends?

I attended a webinar on the new Blackboard Store today and found that it’s not what I expected–yet another app store–but an online bookstore with other course materials available. These materials would be exclusively for the courses the student is enrolled in. This makes sense as the next logical progression from Blackboard’s publisher integrations. It also appears they’re trying to cut Ginkgotree out by developing a similar platform native to Bb.


What gave me pause for reflection was the current trends the rep from MBS Direct (Bb’s store development partner) cited as the context for the launch of the store. It’s all stuff I’ve been hearing a lot of over the last few years:

  • Whole industries are shifting from a single, persistent source for information (or a very few) to multiple channels and multiple modalities, indeed whole new environments. He spoke of a single rock radio station per town in the 1970’s to multiple radio stations, satellite radio, digital downloads, Spotify, Pandora, internet radio, and more. We’re all familiar with these trends in music, movies, and news.

  • In higher education we have growing adjunct and part-time faculty contingents, and shrinking percentages of tenure-track faculty.

  • At the same time there are shrinking percentages of traditional students, with growing percentages of non-traditional students. So the most common type of student nowadays is one who is also working and/or raising a family while attending college.

I got to thinking how different it is at small, residential Liberal Arts colleges than at big state schools and community colleges, what to speak of for-profit, online schools. Here at OWU we still use tenure-track faculty primarily. Our students are predominantly 18-22, and the vast majority of them live and work (if they hold a job at all) on campus. We pride ourselves on having small class sizes in which students and teachers can really get to know one another.

And yet, are our students likewise insulated from these big trends affecting the rest of higher education? I doubt it. Do they increasingly prefer digital over print? Are they increasingly finding multiple sources for study help, for research materials, etc. outside of the campus library, beyond the library’s website? Are more and more of them getting their textbooks and course materials somewhere other than the campus Bookstore? And are they bringing mobile technology with them and accessing course materials, official college email, etc. on these devices? Remember, they are young millennials.

Our teaching and assessing practices need to adapt not so much to the trends in the rest of higher ed, but they should definitely adapt to the changing learning and study habits of our students, who are digital natives.

BlendKit reading response, week 3

This week’s topic is blended assessments of learning. I was able to read it early, for a change, as I’m working the primary election polls today.

I appreciate the emphasis on transfer: “The most crucial step needed in each unit of instruction is the preparation for students’ transfer of learning to new contexts.” This was a Teaching Circle topic earlier this semester and we read a wonderful tale of a teacher’s struggles with her cadaver dog and her class, with lots of examples of transfer. This is often when the satisfying “Aha!” moments happen.

While traditional multiple choice exams are probably most common, there are many other options, formal and informal. Here’s advice any instructional technologist likes to hear: “Any tool that can be afforded the student should be considered to improve learning.” At the same time, one must exercise caution. Students must have full support, and the Reader provides lots of guidance.

image attribution flickr users ransomtech and vanguardvision

It’s interesting that commercial tools for remote proctoring are now available. I’d be curios to see some of them, but I can’t imagine a case for their use at a small, residential college like OWU.

When creating assessments, it’s important to account for all levels of learning, such as described I’m Bloom’s Taxonomy. The Reader claims that “Authentic assessment–assessing student abilities to apply knowledge, skills, and attitudes to real world problems–is not only possible in an online environment; it is getting more popular.” I agree. Many LMS offer statistics on student engagement, how much time they spend in the online environment and specifically where.

There is ample evidence that students who use self-testing do better on graded exams and other assignments. The more they engage with the course and course materials the better they will grasp it and transfer it. You can even allow students to generate their own questions and use some of them on an actual exam.

Reading and discussion reflections – BlendKit 2014 week 2

There was a nice discussion in one of the course forums on spontaneity in blended learning. Participants shared their challenges with allowing for or creating spontaneous interactions online. Stephanie Payzant suggested discussion forums as a place where this can happen asynchronously, as long as our processes and procedures are flexible. Someone else suggested projects where students must share information. Instructor modeling is key. And then another participant asked if “introducing spontaneity” wasn’t an oxymoron.

Blended interactions were the topic, and a lot of the reading and online discussion centered on the role of the educator in a networked world. When learning is decentralized, no longer one size fits all, and students are working within their own personal learning environment (PLE–an environment where people, tools, communities, and resources interact loosely, enabling an individual to learn in a world of fragmented and distributed information, rather than well organized and coherent,) what is the role of the teacher? The reading described four new roles for the educator:

  1. Master – one who observes the activities of students and draws their attention to innovative approaches.
  2. Network administrator – assists learners in forming connections and creating learning networks.
  3. Concierge – provides soft guidance and shows students things they didn’t know were available or possible.
  4. Curator – the expert learner creates spaces in which knowledge can be created, explored, and connected.

The catchy designation, “Guide on the side” comes to mind (as opposed to “sage on the stage”.) This is helpful for faculty to re-envision their role in the classroom and a course. Once we can imagine it, we can start taking steps toward making it a reality. Having multiple models also makes coming out of a comfort zone more palatable. I’d say for truly effective, dynamic learner-centered pedagogy the teacher must be something of all four. I’m familiar with that role-juggling or hat-switching in my job as the Educational Technologist on campus: I do technical training in workshop settings where I’m somewhat of a sage but also a driver, ensuring that everyone is following along and no one is being left behind. I do one-on-one sessions where I’m more of a coach or personal trainer. I consult in various ways where I’m concierge, offering options faculty weren’t aware of. I publish a lot of content online, here on my blog, on the Self Help Site, or in the new EdTech LibGuide; in this manner I’m more of a curator. When I visit faculty in Teaching Circle or other, similar settings, again I’m more of a concierge, offering what they need when they need it. And I’m literally a system administrator for our LMS, WordPress server, and more.

And then there was a nice exploration of student involvement with several tips to promote it. I like the advice that is the section heading: Construct assignments that encourage expression. …kind of like this one for #Blendkit2014

I actually got into the Week 2 Webinar–last week’s had maxed out before I got there! Here is what I look like while I’m attending:

This is why I don't do video calls at my desk.
This is why I don’t do video calls at my desk.

YAOS – Yet Another Online Store

Blackboard, the mammoth, monolithic LMS is announcing “a new resource that further simplifies the teaching and learning experience: the Blackboard Store(TM).” I can’t imagine how offering students or faculty another store with another expanding collection of apps/building blocks/publisher integrations/service providers is going to further simplify the teaching and learning experience. Here in the U.S. we’re paralyzed by the paradox of choice, and higher education is no exception.

Blackboard Logo

“Study hard. Shop easy.”

Reflections on BlendKit2014 week 2

A comment in the webinar on Monday: “At its heart, Blended learning is about diversity: diversity in learning styles, diversity in time, etc.” I like that, and feel that more instructors need to honor diversity in their teaching.

Our topic for this second week is blended interactions. How do/will we interact with our students in face-to-face versus online encounters? Discussions can take place in both modalities, online may be asynchronous in discussion forums or synchronous in chat rooms. F2F should reinforce/compliment online interactions and vice-versa.

Another comment in the webinar, in response to faculty balking at blended learning, calling it a fad: “They have to experience it to be convinced.” I sure hope not. The fact is that blended learning has been around for over 10 years and has been well documented. And as the saying goes, experience is the best teacher but only a fool learns from no other.

Avoiding ‘a course and a half’ or adding additional work for the students when incorporating online interactions was discussed. The importance of keeping it simple was stressed.

One piece of feedback on the technology used for the course, and this is feedback specifically on Adobe Connect: the interface is cluttered and clunky, especially compared to the much simpler interface of tools such as Skype, Google Hangouts or BlueJeans.


Lastly–for now–the importance of balance has been a recurring theme, balance between f2f & online, as well as balance between structure and flexibility. I think it’s great that blended learning mirrors life. In life, in general, you have to find balance in lots of different ways. Blended learning is not overly analytical, not too emergent, not too this or too much that. And that brings us back to diversity. 🙂

BlendKit Course: Chapter 1 Reflection


So the first week’s reading in the BlendKit course is on Understanding Blended Learning. It starts with defining the term, which is simply a mix (blend) of online learning and face-to-face learning. How much of one versus the other may vary from course to course and depends on various factors, including the level of the students/course, the subject matter, and the geographical spread of the students. While exclusively online learning offers modest benefits over exclusively face-to-face learning, Blended learning has proven advantages over both. The two approaches complement each other well when done well.

How to do blended learning well is a good deal of the reading. The planning process must begin with learning goals. I’ve always said that education must lead technology, not the other way around. It may be useful to consider ways to present and engage with a topic on a continuum from online at one end to face-to-face on the other. One should also consider synchronous–whether online or in-person–and asynchronous activities.

There were two approaches outlined, one illustrating blended learning as a controlled process and the other as an emergent process. While the former included a helpful list of key ingredients, the latter was described as “making patterns from clouds.” I think, even if you use the first option, you’ll still need to be an agile teacher when the rubber meets the road. Both offered structure, very helpful when teaching in multiple venues/media.

Then there were two case studies, one featuring a nice grid of different considerations for each type of learning:

  • Online Instruction
  • Facilitated Online Instruction
  • Blended Instruction, and
  • Studio-based Instruction

All of this was helpful in understanding blended learning in greater detail. The course is geared toward people planning or preparing to actually offer blended learning courses. I hope I get to share this knowledge I’m gaining with the faculty here. Perhaps a Teaching Circle or faculty lunch seminar presentation. It would also be nice to actually consult and advise on blended course design.

Khan Academy now offers a course (for coaches) on Blended Learning

An interesting development. From the introductory video, “The Case for Blended Learning“:

“…this course, which is essentially a Blended Learning 101 with an important caveat: we’re interested in high quality blended learning. We’re not interested in just layering technology on top of existing systems or pushing computers into the classroom. We’re interested in folks who are redesigning the structures and core concepts of how school works to make education more engaging for students, a more effective process, and increasing students’ ownership of the learning process.”
~ Michael Horn, Exec. Dir. Clayton Christensen Institute and Brian Greenberg, CEO Silicon Schools Fund, facilitators of the course

While their focus appears to be on K-12, the fact that they’re focusing on high quality pedagogy is relevant for higher ed. As primary schools improve their teaching and learning through blended learning, students will come to expect it more and more from their higher education institutions, and those that offer blended learning and do it well will differentiate themselves from other institutions that still look like remnants from the 19th century.

Did I mention that I like the emphasis on high quality blended learning?

One other note: there’s more and more information, research, and resources being released on blended learning every day. I’m glad I’m taking the timely BlendKit 2014 course with a cohort of my ISIS colleagues.

NowComment for turning documents into conversations

It seems every other day I learn of some online tool or system that can be used to improve education, and many of them are free. Today I learned of NowComment and got to try BlueJeans.


NowComment I haven’t tried yet, but it was recommended by a colleague. With it you can upload files or use public docs and create discussion forums on them. You can also sort comments, skim summaries, create assignments, hide comments, reply privately, and much more. Accounts on NowComment are offered for free.

BlueJeans web conferencing

I actually got to try BlueJeans web conferencing. It was easy to set up and get started. While in the webinar it had the feel of a Google Hangout–smooth and distraction-free. I checked their website for pricing info, didn’t find any, so I assume it’s expensive.

The Maker Movement takes a giant leap forward

I just learned of this new 3D printer that uses paper (instead of spools of plastic floss) as input material and prints in full color! It’s absolutely amazing what one can now do with a 3D printer. The manufacturing industry may be ripe for disruption like the music and news industries over the last decade or so.

The Mcor Iris

Recent Developments

I’d like to start with a quote:

“a) teaching by telling does not work for most students, b) students who are part of an interactive community are more likely to be successful, and c) knowledge is personal; students enjoy themselves more and develop greater ownership over the material when they are given an opportunity to construct their own understanding.”

~ from the POGIL website. (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning)


I’m serving on the local OWU steering committee for the recent Mellon grant on digital scholarship, and it’s exciting. We’ve got some great projects firming up.

The OWU Radio Station is getting set to launch under new management and in a new space this semester. I’m working on the CPU now.

And, if all goes well, I’ll launch our own EdTech at OWU and Beyond LibGuide as well. This will be a central hub for educating faculty on developments in instructional technology.

Stay tuned.

The best assessment of MOOCs I’ve seen so far

The Chronicle

Jonathan Freedman (UM at Ann Arbor) writing for the Chronicle places the MOOC movement properly (IMHO) in the long history of middlebrow education:

Knowledge becomes a commodity you can buy rather than a product of a process that takes time, effort, and patience to master. [Bill] Gates’s words speak to a view of cultural attainments that we call middlebrow.

While Freedman connects MOOCs genealogically to lyceums and chautauquas, I also see connections to the self-help / self-improvement movements of the 19th & 20th centuries, as well as to oft-compared mail-order education. These options are not bad, especially for the upward-aspiring masses, and MOOCs are offering such a commodified education to the broadest market ever. Therein lies their promise and usefulness.

I’m confident that Universities will remain places where students learn that time-consuming, challenging process of critical problem solving and moral leadership. MOOCs are no competition there, especially when the single-most important factor in learning such life skills is the personal relationship with one or more significant mentors.

Freedman has some good recommendations for traditional brick and mortar colleges, and they align nicely with my own thoughts of op0en educational resources (OER) being a burgeoning public commons.

Instilling in the public a taste for culture and imparting scientific and social-scientific knowledge beyond the classroom was once part of the university’s mission.

Giving another try at a MOOC #edcmooc

So far, I’m pleased with the welcome I’ve received to this massively open online course (MOOC) E-Learning and Digital Cultures. It’s almost as if the course was designed by digital natives.

Along with the usual course welcome page there was also a “How to Study EDCMOOC” page that addressed the common problem of “This course is out of control! I can’t keep up!” and offered these specific tips:

  • Read selectively: you are not expected to engage with every single area of course content
  • Choose one or two media streams only to focus on: you can’t be everywhere at once
  • Let go of the notion of ‘being on top of things’ – this is also impossible – instead, enjoy the serendipity of the random encounter
  • Relax, select, investigate, think, write when it makes sense to write, and write in a space that you enjoy
  • Forget traditional online teaching methods: there are around 17,000 people on this course, only 5 teachers and 8 Community Teaching Assistants

and this video:

I already feel more at home.

Box of Tricks

I was working with a student this morning, assisting her to learn WordPress and build a professional portfolio site. She’s doing an independent study this year on the use of technology in education–right up my alley. She asked if I had heard of Box of Tricks. No, but when she showed me the site and its list of over 200 tried and tested internet resources, there were many there that I was familiar with. It was nice to have a little collegial exchange sprinkled amongst our mentor/pupil session, one of the many reasons I love my job.

Benefits of using technology in your teaching

(Just off the top of my head, including all technology from chalk boards to smart phones. A general perspective on tech, a higher ed perspective on teaching…)

  • Meeting the learner “where they’re at”. College-aged students are immersed in technology so much more than any other generation before them.

  • Engaging multiple learning styles through multiple channels. Speaking and music are good for auditory learners; writing on the board or using presentation software is good for visual learners; students taking notes is good for kinetic learners. Can you see how a mobile device like a tablet computer can please all of these learners at once?

  • Keeping students’ attention. Most folks have a good sense for what is a good presentation and what’s boring. used to have a cute introductory video showing an audience falling asleep while the presenter’s shadow looked like she was holding a carving knife instead of a pointer. Technology used well has the potential for a “Wow!” factor; technology done moderately well will at least help keep your students awake.

  • Collaborative learning. Discussion boards, blogs, wikis, social networks all foster conversation and collaboration. Most learning management systems have a group feature allowing instructors to easily split a class up into groups, each with its own tools. And with the Internet, why not collaborate with another class in another part of the world?

  • Immediate feedback. Clickers, or audience response systems, including Poll Everywhere, allow teachers to assess the engagement of a class in more quantitative ways than simply reading body language. Take a step back from the classroom and mastery or other short quizzes the night before make sure everybody’s on the same page.

  • Active learning. Gamification of education is a big trend now because games are active, engaging, and rewarding. World of Warcraft and Minecraft, what to speak of Civilization and others, have many educational uses. Students can also be engaged in active learning in and between class times researching, fact-checking, demonstrating, etc.. And, of course, there’s bringing a guest speaker to class via Skype or Hangout and allowing the students to ask questions and interact.

So there aren’t any good excuses for a good teacher not to use technology.


Falling through the cracks in a MOOC

It’s Monday, the start of a new semester and academic year at Ohio Wesleyan, our busiest time of the year. It’s also the start of week 4–the final week–in Foundations for Teaching for Learning, the Coursera course I’ve got to be failing because I’ve been so busy with other job-related duties and obligations.

And this situation points out one of the biggest failures with MOOCs: the staggeringly high drop-out rate. Reported by Inside Higher Ed in March, it was around 90%! Because MOOCs are using a 1 to many (hundreds of thousands in many cases) or hierarchical pedagogical model, it’s nearly or probably impossible for one instructor to keep tabs on so many students, and there doesn’t seem to be any process or structure in place for getting students to keep tabs on other students. If one fails to watch the course videos and/or turn in the assignments it goes unnoticed by other students, the instructor, and any of the MOOC administrators. I failed to receive any inquiry as to what was going on and why I wasn’t participating. Furthermore, the discussion forum threads that I posted to and subscribed to haven’t seen any other activity–If they had I would have received an email notification. This makes succeeding at a MOOC entirely up to the student and their own gumption. Free to all, but we have to do it all on our own. The MOOC just puts it all out there for anyone to access (if they sign up for it) and pursue on their own. In other words, it’s like an online video tutorial unless you make some friends in the class and share the journey with them. If you don’t, you’re completely on your own.

I’m intrigued by an alternative, the DOCC proposed by FemTechNet. Instead of a massively open online course, it’s a Distributed Online Collaborative Course. As Anne Balsamo, co-facilitator of the first DOCC and Dean of the School of Media Studies at the New School in New York,  says, “Who you learn with is as important as what you learn.”

MOOC grumblings

I’ve completed the first assignment in my Coursera course, grumbling about the way the assignment is setup…

First, it’s not using the web to anywhere near it’s potential, not promoting eco-friendly practices, and actually says in the instructions, “Go through each item circling the number… When you have completed this draw lines… If possible use a heavy marker pen.” I thought this was an online course! Coursera needs to have a team of web guru’s who audit their courses to point out assignments that can be handled on the web a whole lot easier than printing out two pages of paper and taking a marker to them. I suspect SurveyMonkey or some other existing system is already offering something that will accomplish this task in an acceptably similar fashion online.

My next grumble was with Microsoft. I created circles in the Word document I downloaded and connected them with lines. Doing so was tedious because when I copied a shape the text wrapping setting didn’t come with copying while all other formatting did. This seems to be one of those complaints Microsoft often gets that their Office products think they know better than you, like with auto-formatting. Then, when I went to save it (not save as) using Office 2011 for Mac I got the following error and had to preserve formatting. This is another reason to have the assignment entirely online, so you don’t have to be concerned about which version of Office students have.

Word 2008 Compatibility Error

So my assessment at this point is that some MOOCs aren’t done well at all. I hope and suspect that there are some that are. The news of periodic & automatic online assessment (which I haven’t seen) and teaching for mastery, rather than to a test, make me confident that there must be better examples elsewhere. I feel like I should try Udacity instead.

Trying out a MOOC

Sometime this summer I signed up for a course on Coursera: Foundations of Teaching for Learning 1: Introduction. It looked suitable because it only lasted four weeks and had something to do with Education. I had looked and was unable to find any free MOOC courses on educational technology. The course started last week. The course is the first in a series of seven, all on Teaching for Learning. This one introduces the format and expectations of the series and begins to discuss what it is to be a teacher.

Coursera Logo

My first impression, besides excitement and fascination, was intimidation. There was a Welcome discussion forum where we were all invited to share where we’re from. I saw fellow students from Pakistan, Nebraska, Spain, Indonesia, Mexican-born living in the USA, Poland, Polish living in the UK, American living in Nigeria, Greece, England, Lithuanian living in Spain, French living in Spain, France, California, Las Vegas, Russia, France, Romania, Las Vegas, Brazil, Spaniard working in India, Wales, The Congo, Somalia, Belgium, and on and on. You know how pages on Facebook and other sites now expand when you come near the bottom? The course intro page was like that, but it was caused by the continual addition of new posts on the page. I thought, there’s no way I’m going to get to know everyone in the class.

I found a forum thread asking if there were any other corporate trainers in the course. I responded kindly, as did 10 other people. I then found another thread under the topic “Study Groups” entitled “Post-secondary education”. I posted there and asked to join the group. If I’m going to get anything out of this course, I need to meet people, and it seems the natural way to do that is to find mutual interests or other commonalities.

The first two video lectures were unimpressive. The instructor, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Cambridge, UK, is fully credentialed. About half of the lecture was him speaking into a camera, the other half were PowerPoint-like slides, and sometimes the video of him talking appeared overtop the presentation. His speech and demeanor were casual and conversational, which made the whole presentation slower than I had anticipated. And he had that annoying habit of reading or mentioning everything on the slides. Ho hum.

The first assignment is a very brief assessment of teaching attitudes and self-perception. I see that there will be 700 and 1000 word papers that will be peer-graded, plus quizzes. More to come…


3D Printing in BOMI

Our Botany & Microbiology Department recently acquired a MakerBot Replicator 2 printer. For now, it’s being used to construct custom-made pieces of equipment for research in their labs. Professor Chris Wolverton arranged for its purchase and coordinates its use in his teaching lab. He calls it “a prototype builder” because you can print something out and take a look at it–more than that, you get a tactile appreciation of the piece–and easily identify opportunities for improvement. The equipment his student is producing now is not what he originally envisioned, it’s better.

Junior BOMI Major, Patrick Zmina knew he was going to be the one to learn how to use it as soon as he found out we had one. He quickly became the primary user of the printer and is happy to share what he’s picked up so far. He cautions that you can’t let the workstation go to sleep when in the midst of a job, which can take several hours. The printer will still be communicating with the computer, but it will no longer be functioning. You might wind up with the start of a piece and a glob of plastic on top. Although many free designs are available with the software and online, he’s had to learn both Google SketchUp and MarkerBot’s own MakerWare to build custom pieces for the labs. He knows these are marketable skills applicable to many careers, and he’s having fun.

Continue reading “3D Printing in BOMI”

Teaching WordPress & website building at OWjL

This summer I have the pleasure of teaching two classes for the OWjL camp program here at OWU. Last week I taught HTML and CSS to 6th graders and this week it’s WordPress for 8th graders. It’s been fun to work with the kids, all of whom are eager to soak up knowledge and new skills.

OWjL is a week-long summer camp for gifted youth in 6th through 8th grades in the Central Ohio region. I’ve been involved with the program for several years, but always on the back-end, enabling their counselors to access our wireless network and or making sure they had the equipment they need.

Over this last academic year I’ve been developing a database for the OWjL Office staff to use to keep track of campers, classes, and instructors, getting them finally off of our old legacy system. So I decided to take the plunge and offer a class or two. It’s been fun and good practice, and the kids are great.

Check out my example site: OWU Training Blog.

Update: Since the training blog was created using a training account, I will soon be deleting the site and closing the account. I will probably copy some of the finer posts here before doing so.

Flipping a test

One point I feel must be driven home in any discussion of educational technology is that the goal is not to use more technology but to use technology to support more active learning. The goal is to improve the educational experience; technology can enhance that in many wonderful ways.

Here’s a great example (that actually doesn’t involve an innovative use of technology.) A UCLA Behavioral Ecology Professor allowed cheating on a test.

The best tests will not only find out what students know but also stimulate thinking in novel ways. This is much more than regurgitating memorized facts. The test itself becomes a learning experience – where the very act of taking it leads to a deeper understanding of the subject.

KCRW’s Which Way LA blog – Cheating to Learn: How a UCLA Professor Gamed a Game Theory Midterm