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.

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.

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.

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.