October 23, 2012

Dear Diary,

I haven’t had time to re-construct my novel, Rightful Identity. There is no other excuse other than being dissatisfied with it. I wondered if it will ever get done. I usually finish my projects.

The novel does not lay quietly. I’m constantly reworking it in my mind. There’s room in my schedule now, so the time has come to make that decision-complete it or forever leave it alone.

SchoolTube: Learning Without the Risk of Explicit Content

There's a dilemma in the K-12 Educational Realm: to block YouTube or not to block YouTube. Parents have the same dilemma at home too. There's a lot of explicit and suggestive videos on YouTube that most teachers/parents wouldn't allow children to be exposed to. The opposite is true as well: there's a lot of fantastic content on YouTube that can help kids in the learning journey. Each school and family makes up their own rules on how to navigate this problem. However, the father and son team of Carl and Andrew Arizpe are giving us all an alternative. It's called SchoolTube. It has all the good parts of YouTube without the risks of inappropriate content. The way that SchoolTube creates this safe environment is to empower teachers to moderate the videos posted to SchoolTube by their very own students. NEAT! Like YouTube, no account is necessary to view videos and the collection of interesting clips tops over 400,000 videos at the moment. Here's one example below that provides a fun and useful introduction to the Periodic Table of Elements. Chemistry geeks will love this.
The main page of SchoolTube also contains a "Video of the Day" that is judged worthy by users. Pretty cool. Do you have any experience with SchoolTube? Are there any other advantages or disadvantages? If so, let us know by leaving a comment below.

Implications for Online Learning – 2012 Canada Copyright Reform

Hot off the presses! Contact North, Ontario's Distance Education and Training Network, has published a very useful summary of the profound copyright changes in Canada that have occurred in 2012 (to date!) Entitled: The Perfect Storm - Canadian Copyright Law 2012 (Making Sense of the Dramatic Changes and the Far-Reaching Implications for Online Learning).
It's obvious by the sub-title that this document discusses the recent changes in the context of distance education and online learning. Refreshing! It is important to note that unlike my last post on the subject of Copyright Reform in Canadathat this document by Contact North also explains five Supreme Court of Canada decisions that took place in July 2002 that contribute towards an expanded definition of "Fair Dealing", technology neutrality and a strong endorsement of end user rights. Have a look at this succinct document. If you are a teacher, instructional designer or distance learning administrator then it will definitely pique your interest.

Coursera – Week 1

The Grimm's Household Tales
In has been an interesting introduction to the free, massive open online courses offered by Coursera. I've enjoyed the experience so much that I've already signed up for two more courses - Modern & Contemporary American Poetry, set to start on September 10th, and Greek & Roman Mythology, which starts on September 24th. I'm looking forward to them, but seeing as how I will also be launching into my masters thesis in poetry, as well as two single semester courses on playwriting, and teaching creative writing around then, I'm not sure if I will be able to see those courses through. Considering the results of my first week with the two courses I am currently enrolled in, Listening to World Music, and Science Fiction and Fantasy: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, I may indeed have to be a little more on task to keep all those plates spinning.

Week 1 - Science Fiction and Fantasy

The course is taught by Eric Rabkin, from the University of Michigan. Thus far I have enjoyed the videos, although they are traditional lectures. That said, the videos do cut away from Rabkin to display example texts, illustrations, and pictures. The audio is always clear, and Rabkin has a knack for explaining complex topics in a relatable and understandable manner.

The course expectations are clear. Each week we read a text, and are expected to write an essay of between 270 and 320 words. The submissions page will not accept any entry above 320 words, which helps encourage concision. After submitting an assignment, you have to read and evaluate essays by 5 of your classmates. These essays are chosen at random, and provide no identifying information, just the text. Your job is to give them a score of 1 to 3 (1 = Terrible, 2 = Average, 3 = Awesome) for two separate categories, form and content. In addition to the numerical score, you have to write comments/critiques of between 30 to 150 words for each category, with an additional optional comments section for anything else you might have to say. In one of the videos, Rabkin explains that for each category, 10%-30% of the marks should be a 1, and no more than 20% should be a 3.

Thus far I have given scores that range between a 2 (lowest score possible) and a 4 (average).  Of the six essays I evaluated (after the first five you are given an option of evaluating more), none showed any real creative thought or effort, and only two had a (barely) university-level command of English. As the course currently has an enrollment of between the high five and low six figures, the participants will represent a broad spectrum both academically and culturally. While this might mean that I should perhaps focus more on the ideas being expressed than the precision with which those ideas are conveyed, as this is meant to be a university-level course, conducted in English, it would be better if my evaluations reflected that.

Overall I have nothing but good things to say about how Rabkin and his team are running the course so far. Based on the e-mails they have sent out to the students, and also based on what I know about the general nature of those who would flock to a course in Science Fiction and Fantasy (Remember, I'm an internet nerd too, and I know what my people can be like), I am absolutely sure that Rabkin and his assistants have been absolutely hammered by a deluge of irritating, off-topic, mind-boggling e-mails. That they seem to be taking the feedback in stride and maintaining a the integrity of the course and the prepared syllabus is refreshing.

Week 1 - Listening to World Music

I'll admit it, I was not a good student this week. I downloaded the videos, watched them, enjoyed the lectures, but when it came to the assignment, I messed up. I didn't pay proper attention to the submission deadlines, and missed the deadline. One thing I'll say is that I love the fact that these courses have hard and fast deadlines. When the deadline passes, you can't even attempt to submit a response. When I'm a conscientious student, there is nothing I hate more than seeing late and overdue submissions make their way in to the marking pile.

The course is taught by Carol Muller, from the University of Pennsylvania. The videos are also lectures, but put together differently. Muller is recorded in green screen, and the Powerpoint slides are are placed behind and to the side of her. Where Rabkin's videos featured him sitting and cutting away to show slides, Muller is standing, and always present in the videos.

Hopefully I can get my act together for week 2, and get things done on time.  

Build Up, Don’t Tear Down

I came across a post on Scott McLeod's blog, Dangerously Irrelevant, regarding a recent Washington Post article that was critical of Salman Khan, and his online education efforts.

Reading the article put my blood pressure up a mite, and I ended up leaving this as a comment on McLeod's post.

I'm of two minds on that article. On the one hand, I do agree that the aesthetics of Khan's videos leave much to be desired, but as to whether Khan's approach is inherently bad teaching? I'm not so sure.

A normal teacher is observed during a lesson around two or three times a year wherever I have worked. After an observation comes a feedback session where everything that occurred in the lesson is nitpicked.  Strong areas are highlighted, areas of improvement are pointed out, and the teacher walks away with a record of that observation. 

Generally speaking, teachers wear their Sunday best when being observed. They pull out the assessment tool, make sure to touch upon the key elements being assessed, and put on a show. While every other lesson in their day-to-day practice may still be good, it is rare for any teacher to bring their B-Game to an observation. And after the observation is over, they are left to keep on keeping on.

But that's not the case for Khan. For Khan, every lesson is an observed lesson. Every lesson has thousands of keen eyed educators assessing and nitpicking it, commenting on it, and judging it.  Imagine if every lesson you taught, day after day, were observed in the same manner? Would you be brining your A-Game each and every time? Would you be as infallible as the Pope with your facts, figures, explanations and analogies?

Probably not.

This, then, is what so irritated me about this article. It encapsulates a mindset that I find absolutely infuriating. 

So Sal Khan goes ahead and teaches a couple thousand different lessons. Some are great, some not as great. But instead of saying "Hey, this is an awesome foundation we can build upon", or "I like Khan's video, but I would add that another way to conceptualize (concept) is...", all I hear is "How come Khan doesn't explain (insert concept) as good as (insert educator's name) does?" Or they make an entire video about why Khan was wrong on some point or another.

Khan is trying to do something that few educators have tried to do. He is trying to create a broad swathe of resources that can be accessed by anybody, covering a broad span of topics, grade levels, and subjects. As Odin was the "All-Father" some see Khan as turning into the "All-Teacher," and look upon that with the specialist's contempt of the jack-of-all-trades, and dismiss his work as merely a lesser effort.

The article says "[i]n the class it's bad teaching, and online it's a revolution?" In a word, yes.

Khan's lessons, whatever their merit, are there, online. Available to one and all. You can put the greatest teacher in the world in a room and have them teach the greatest lesson ever taught, and it will still amount to less than what Khan has achieved. Why? Because that lesson, however good it was, ceased to be the moment class was over. All that would remain would be, as Tenacious D would put it, a tribute.

Serious educators do not criticize and tear down. Serious educators analyze and build upon. Don't like Khan's explanation of something? Then edit his video, add your own spin. Credit the source and make it better. 

That's the whole point of the creative commons. It's the underlying principle of the scientific method. It's the entire basis of western culture since the enlightenment.

Make, share, use, make better.

Okay. End of rant. But as a postscript...

Bad teaching? That's a first world view. I teach in Asia, and for students who study the Indian syllabus, or in similar systems in Asia (which is most of them), what Khan does is what they want. The student centered, problem solving, independent learning approach is better, but it is not the norm in the most populated areas of the world. It is only prevalent in wealthy nations, and even there these approaches are limited to the relatively privileged groups.

Teachers in North America are insanely privileged in comparison to teachers almost anywhere else. In South Asia, the average teacher barely earns a subsistence level wage, has to contend with enormous class sizes, and has little to no logistical support. Students get little to no individual attention, so resources like what Khan produces are an absolute godsend. Sure he may be just going over example after example, but you know what? That's what the they want over here. That's how education functions over here.  It's not a question of what is best practice and what is not, it is a question of what actually is. 

"[H]ow the price of an iPod changes as you buy more memory" may not necessarily work as well in Bihar as it would in Iowa. 

Coursera, or Teacher Learn Thyself

As a proponent of free, open resources, and someone who hubristically believes they know a bit about online education (most likely a false belief, but we all need our illusions), I thought it might be good to jump into the world of MOOCs - Massive Open Online Courses. This week, my education began.

MOOCs are a rapidly growing area of education that has the potential to be incredibly destabilizing, at least to the current higher education model as it exists today. edX, MITx, Udacity, and now Coursera are some of the organizations, or entities, pursuing this model. At some point in the recent to mid past, I had put myself on a mailing list for Coursera, but as I hazily recall, at the time I looked at Coursera, the courses on offer were STEM focused, and thus not something I'd attempt to touch other than at gunpoint. Did I want to study computer science? No, not really. What about artificial intelligence? Possibly. It's something I am interested in, and if presented through a humanities framework, probably a something I might try. But since the course seemed to involve math higher than basic addition and subtraction, I took a pass. None of the initial courses offered by Coursera interested me, but the initiative still seemed a neat idea that I should keep an eye on.

Well the initiative turned out to appeal to a broad swath of people from around the world. Since launching, 1.5 million+ students have signed up for courses. The artificial intelligence course I took a pass on ended up having 50,000+ students enrolled. Only a small fraction of those students ended up passing the course, but then that's a good thing. Of the 46,500+ students who did not make the cut, they all learned, for free, a lesson that every debt burdened higher-ed dropout wishes they had learned - that not everybody grows up to be an astronaut (tip o' the hat to E.L. Kersten).

Which brings me to the key thing that motivated this post. Now, I love university, and the university life. I didn't do the standard four year run, due to finances, ending up finishing my B.A. over a more sedate seven year stretch, and I am currently in the fifth year of an MFA, just starting my thesis in poetry. (I know... I know... but still I like it). Yet university is a massively expensive proposition for the average person, and the ROI for almost any degree is nearly negligible at the outset. At best, getting a Bachelors, or a Masters is akin to investing in a 30 year bond. It'll pay out eventually, but you have to wait a while.

For a guy like me, who likes reading, likes writing, like wrestling with esoterica that has nothing whatsoever to do with the world of work, money, or practical and applicable skills, university is great. That's my thing, you know. I like it. I'm good at it. I can't rebuild an engine, and can barely change the oil on my car, but analyze a text? I've got six shooters in both holsters, my friend.

But then, isn't that kind of useless, in a practical sense? The humanities don't add value to the world in the physical sense. They don't build houses, or design telecommunications arrays. But isn't the point of existence in this modern age that we don't have to live as our hunter-gatherer forbears did - with each and every day focused only on practical tasks necessary for survival? Music, art, novels, and movies are all completely unnecessary for survival, completely impractical, yet they are what make the day to day of life worthwhile for so many. They are, in a word, fun.

This is the reason I signed up for these Coursera courses. I like the humanities. I like musicology. Paying thousands of dollars for these courses would be a reckless indulgence for my family, financially, and would offer no benefit to us monetarily. I may have been imprudently indulgent in pursuing a B.A. in Creative Writing, and now an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, instead of trying for an MBA or JD, but I can defend my choice of degree in that I will end up with a graduate degree, period. The credential will be something I can leverage for my family's benefit. In my line of work, regardless of experience or intelligence, the difference between a Master and Bachelors translates into a whole swathe of better job opportunities, and extra income. That I am studying something I enjoy, and am good at, is a bonus. But if not for the fact that I can use my degree for a practical purpose, and have the ability to complete it, pursuing it would have been purest folly.

I keep reading articles about millions of students in the US and Canada who enter into university, only to drop out with a mountain of debt, and these stories always upset me. I really hate the precedence of the academic credential in the modern world, because the end result is a highly destructive and self-defeating educational paradigm. Students go to high school to prepare for university, and anything less is frowned upon. Based just on the dropout rates for high school and university, there are a heck of a lot of people not cut out for higher education. Yet so many feel pressured to give it a go, and universities capitalize on this.

Anybody who has ever sat in a massive lecture hall in a first year introductory course has taken part in a scam. Where I did my B.A., at York University in Toronto, I had to take two "Foundations" courses. These were 9 credit courses (With 30 credits being a full load) where a single professor would lecture to over 500 students, while TAs (always grad students being paid a pittance) would lead smaller groups in seminars. Since I was going to school in Canada, the tuition was not outrageous. Maybe $200 and change per credit. Still, that amounted to $1800 per student, for a total of nearly $1,000,000 for the course. In the US, where the per credit course is that much higher... you can do the math.

So what's wrong with this? Well these courses are often used to separate the serious students from those who should not be at university. They are marketed relentlessly, and are usually forced upon students as a requirement, with the result being that a sizable portion of the students who paid for these classes deciding to eventually drop out. It makes sense for the university in that these courses are money-makers, and often go a long way to supporting the budgets of entire departments, yet for all those students who end up walking away with nothing but debt, the experience was anything but beneficial.

Some students will have dropped out due to financial constraints, but with the readily available, and seemingly free-flowing credit laying around for students who simply want to give university a go, it is probably more likely that those who dropped out did so because the learned that university level education was not right for them. The level of reading, the writing requirements, whatever it may be, these students ended up learning, to their detriment, that they made a HUGE mistake.

And this is where something like Coursera is a godsend. Imagine if, in the final year of high school, students were required to take a Coursera style university course. Not for marks, but just as a participation requirement, just to determine wether university education was right for them. The first, and immediate effect, I believe, would be a massive reduction in the number of students giving college a go. These students would see university level education for what it is, not good or bad, but difficult and not for everyone, and might perhaps then be open to alternatives, to trade schools, vocational programs, or entry-level positions with on-the-job learning.

This is how something like Coursera could be destabilizing for the current higher education paradigm. It pulls the curtain back on the wizard, dispelling the marketing slogans, and enticing offers. It allows those who love to learn in a community of learners to do so. For those who are not quite prepared for the university level, it offers a risk-free opportunity to experience higher-education.

Over the summer, I will be doing two courses through Coursera - a course in World Music offered by The University of Pennsylvania, and a course about Science Fiction offered by the University of Michigan. I'll post my thoughts about it from time to time, how the course operates, and perhaps posting some of my assignments and the associated lectures or texts (where copyright allows).

It should be fun!

Learning because ‘it’s cool’ say 17 year old boys

When was the last time you heard kids say they did a science project outside of class time because learning is cool? Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve heard that very often in my career as a science educator. I’ve seen a lot of students say that learning at school is cool depending on the subject matter or the project, etc; however, this story is a bit different.

Two 17-year old kids from Newmarket, Ontario sent a Lego minifigure carrying a Canadian Flag into space and filmed it all. Yup - still pictures and video were taken for the entire 80,000+ ft (24 km) climb and the 122+ Km distance the contraption traveled. They did all of this on their own time, with their own funds, away from school in a completely unrelated fashion from any assignment, science fair or school project. Why? Because they just thought it would be cool.

Awesome! I agree: cool!

Top Four HOT Concepts in Distance Learning

  1. Distance Learning itself. At my institution, we are scratching our heads a little bit wondering why we have an above average number of enrollments in our distance learning courses. The same enrollment boom is occurring at other institutions like Bryan College. However, if you do a quick Google search and read a few reports it is clear that the pundits have been predicting that distance learning enrollments will rise. Student seem to be gravitating towards learning opportunities that are not tied to them having to be in any particular location at a prescribed time during the day or week. So called ‘anytime, anywhere’ learning. They enjoy the flexibility of distance learning away from the traditional 1-hour (or 3-hour) face-to-face lecture format. So Distance Learning itself is a really hot concept. Be sure your institution plays into the needs and wants of today’s students. When you design your distance learning courses, lean towards asynchronous models that do not prescribe the students to assemble (even virtually) at any particular time during the week. These synchronous models can be less attractive to students especially if they reside in a different time zone that the host institution. If you cannot avoid some synchronous activities in your distance courses, then be sure to be up front with your students and clearly state the degree of synchronous commitment expected of students before they register in the course.
  2. Mobile learning. With each passing set of Christmas holidays, more students find themselves joyful recipients of an iPad, iPhone or other fancy tech thingy under the tree. The number of students that come equipped with tablets, smartphones, e-readers and other gadgets is increasing quickly. They are using these gadgets daily for numerous activities and the mobility affordances provided by these items is very attractive to users. Leverage this trend and be sure that your course materials are mobile friendly. PDF files can help but if you want to go one step further, try ePub and Kindle-specific MOBI files. With just a little more effort on your part (more info here), you can provide students with choices in the file formats for their course materials. Choices usually equate in the short run to student satisfaction. Satisfy your students’ desire for mobile learning by making your course materials mobile friendly.
  3. eTextbooks. The tide is turning (albeit slowly) in the publishing industry. Attention is slowly drifting away from the model of having a hardcopy textbook with associated electronic resources online towards a more student-centered model of have an integrated electronic textbook that students can either rent or buy, and store on their own electronic devices. With each passing semester I learn from my students that they are interested in these digital versions of textbooks (sometimes it's because they may cheaper than hardcopy!). For example, I just received an email last week from a student expressing great joy because the publisher of the textbook for my course was providing a Kindle version for sale. The idea of keeping all his textbooks assembled into his tiny Kindle was a BIG advantage for this student. This reinforces the previous point above Mobile Learning. The penetration of mobile devices into the student body is now driving textbook publishers to devote more resources to eTextbooks. So what can you do about this? If you are a textbook author, then encourage your publisher to make eTextbook versions of your book. If you are in the process of selecting a book for your course, then take the extra moment to compare if each of the titles you are considering has an eTextbook format. Making wise choices that facilitate students to learn “anytime, anywhere” will prove to be a win:win for both the students and the educational institutions involved.
  4. Free Resources. Ask any student and she will tell you “Free is King”. Whether you are an instructional designer or a professor, challenge yourself to scour the Internet to look for freely available resources that relate to the topic of your course. Critically evaluate each one and choose the best ones to integrate into your course. Yes – this takes time. However, if you do just a little bit every semester, you’ll soon have course chock-full of fantastically freely available resources that will make your course better. Better courses without increasing cost equals more satisfied students. That logic is easy to understand. Want an even better idea? Design a non-traditional assignment where you ask your students to scour the net and evaluate resources for quality. Let them do the legwork of finding the material and then you can integrate the best of found treasures into future iterations of the course. Brilliant!
Do you have a comment about these Top 4 concepts or do you have a HOT concept for distance learning that didn’t make it into my Top 4, if so, please leave a comment below.

Why are so many teachers resistant to eLearning?

I came across a great article in Slate, today - Why Johnny Can't Add Without a Calculator by Konstantin Kakaes. The argument, in simple terms, is that what we really need to teach math is paper, pens, an old fashioned blackboard, and a textbook that is at least a decade or so older than the students. As a key example of this, Kakaes points out the story of Vern Williams, a celebrated super teacher who may very well be the John Henry of Math Educators. Williams refuses to use newfangled devices, and feels they are a menace to real education. Reading this, I found myself smiling, somewhat taken aback by the utter nonsense of it all.
I'm sure Vern Williams is a superstar teacher. But Vern Williams is just a singular being, he is not legion. Of math educators, he may be the LeBron James, or Michael Phelps, but in being that, there then is the reality that there is something he is not - your everyday normal educator. Indeed, in highlighting Mr. Williams special nature, Kakaes even spends time telling us cherry picked anecdotes of examples of technology uses in the classroom he has witnessed which, no surprise, failed to blow him away. 
In a classic example of thunder without lightning, bark without bite, Kakaes ends up making three critical errors in his argument.
First, he sets up a straw man. He chooses the example of teachers who are not yet fully trained in how to use technology in the classroom, and holds their example up as proof that technology in the classroom is all just a waste of time. An argument worthy of William Jennings Bryan.
Next, Kakaes forgets something that is the root of all mathematics - logic. You cannot scale a single person. Vern Williams may be an amazing educator, but you can't clone him by the tens of thousands. The only thing that can bring Mr. Williams wisdom and methods to the masses is the very thing being demonized in the article - technology. To wit:
But drawing up a lesson plan is itself educative: A teacher who plans his own lecture is forced toward mastery of the material, but one who downloads a PowerPoint presentation doesn’t have to know anything beyond how to download the presentation. It is a mirage of efficiency: empty calories.
Drawing up a lesson plan my be educative, but using a lesson plan prepared by a master teacher is far more so. The same goes with the materials, exercises, and examples they create and curate. Great teachers can be hamstrung by poor materials, but those who are merely average to good can often be sunk by them. 
The final error in this piece is that Kakaes is essentially arguing against something he plainly knows nothing about. He tried a few programs and didn't like them? Read a few studies he didn't agree with? Saw a few teachers who didn't blow him away? Plain as day, every example he puts forth as proof of his claim is so utterly weak that it is laughable. This is not someone who knows the theory and practice of flipping a classroom, or how to leverage the interactive properties of technology to enhance engagement, or how teachers can effectively extend their classroom into their student's own homes and give students the kind of individual support that until now only the wealthiest families had access to.
What eventually brought about a final snort of derision from me was this gem near the end of the article -
Technology is bad at dealing with poorly structured concepts. One question leads to another leads to another, and the rigid structure of computer software has no way of dealing with this.
Clearly Kakaes has never heard of social networking, or learning management systems like Edmodo, which exist to promote discussion, and do not operate according to some strict, linear paradigm; tools which are as useful or not according to who uses them and how they are used. 
I don't often have this sort of reaction, but at the end of the article, I was nearly yelling at my screen. If this 20 year old math text is so great, why isn't it digitized! If Vern Williams is so great, then why isn't his every lesson plan, self created resource, and descriptions of his methodology online? Is the 0$ price tag of Google Docs too much to handle? Does clicking the "upload" button present in insurmountable challenge? And how is it not better for students to have access to the lessons and wisdom of their teachers wherever they are, over only seeing them a few times a week?
The truth is, Kakaes argument is one that I have found all too common, in my experience. In another time, Kakaes and those who think like him would react to seeing automobiles drive past by doubling down on horses and carriage makers. What is so plainly obvious to someone like me, is glaringly not obvious to those like him. Which begs the question, why?
Permit me, if you will,a few preliminary thoughts on the matter.

Why So Many Teachers Resist eLearning
1) A key stumbling block is conceptual. The vast majority of teachers I work with don't really grasp the breadth and scope of this paradigm. All our teachers were encouraged to embrace 1:1, but efforts in that regard seemed to be viewed more as a faddish bureaucratic requirement. Like putting up posters of student work before an observation. Changing this mindset is not impossible, but it does require patience, effort, time, and a plan.
2) The next issue is generational. It's like a technological KT boundary. Those that are early thirty-ish and under generally get it, and those over, generally don't. I can't remember where I took this analogy from, maybe Scott McLeod or someone in that educational travelling visionary set, but in my training sessions I generally open things up with this statement - To teachers, a computer, is a tool. It is something you use for your job. It has a purpose and a function, like any other tool. To students, a computer is their environment, their ecosystem. It is not just something they use, it is something they use for everything. Friendship, love, entertainment, school, personal exploration, commiseration, engagement, all of it, everything, is mediated by a computer of some sort. Whether it is a desktop, a laptop, a tablet, or a smartphone, doesn't matter. They are all doors and windows into this world that overwhelmingly informs everything they understand about everything around them.
The average teacher doesn't have the frame of reference to truly grasp this. They talk about kids being "addicted" to their cell phones, or their computers, or their video games. They see the behavior as an aberration, a deviation from what they perceive is the norm. What they don't understand, or can't accept, is that the behavior is not a deviation, or an aberration, it is the norm.
3) The third problem, in my opinion, is behavioural. There are a variety of reasons teachers will resist change. For example, they may not want to spend their own money on buying technological tools. I used to work construction. I bought my own tools, my own gear. This is how trades work. Chefs buy their own knives. Artists buy their own brushes and paints. I buy my own microphones, and cameras, and cables. But for some reason most teachers I know feel that their employer has to pay for these things. If I walked onto a construction site and said "You gotta buy me some tools" I'd fast be finding someplace else to be. But teachers seem to see things differently. Perhaps this may be because teachers don't see these technological things as tools of their trade yet, but as esoteric extras.
Also aligned within this behavioral subset is attitude. Teachers who are burned out, or just don't care, won't bother. Teachers with ten years or less until retirement don't see a compelling reason to change their practice. Then there are the teachers who are just hanging on by their fingernails, barely able to control their classes, unsure about whether they picked the right profession, and just don't have the wherewithal to take on something that seems so alien and insurmountable.
The above are all reasons why other teachers are resistant to this model. They. Them.
But there is, strongly feel, another, bigger reason - us.
In every school there are a handful of techie types like myself, comfortable with technology, conversant with it, who proselytize constantly, spreading the digital good news. But how do we look to everyone else?
How receptive are you to the guy on the street corner telling you to repent now? Because that is how we can seem to our colleagues. The faithful, the converted, shouting out our news, our truth. The problem is that we are telling, but rarely ever showing.
I get excited about cool new tools, as many others do. We'll ohh and ahh, and just gush with effervescent imagination like a hippe Carl Sagan who'd just chugged two shots of Atomic Jello laced with LSD.
"Oh it's amazing! You could snargle! With the burgleforg! And then zaxxan the piffleburp!
Listening to us "Terds" speak (Teacher-Nerds... though on reflection perhaps that is an unfortunate amalgam...Teeks, anyone?) is like listening to Charlie Brown's teacher.
What's worse, not only will the un-digital not understand us, but we will often be impatient with them. Our every expression and action will appear to scream "What kind of moron are you? A two year old can do this!"
It doesn't matter that none of what they perceive is true. It doesn't matter if you truly are a helpful person, who holds their colleagues in the highest of esteem. The actual, bedrock truth doesn't matter. Only what is perceived to be the truth does.
I learned this the hard way. Full of energy, positivity, ideas, and a willingness to expend effort on behalf of others, I found myself constantly being sideswiped by politics in the workplace. Accusations, insinuations, lies, and some insanely mean comments. I kept being yanked into the principal's office, and more than once thought I'd be out of a job right then and there. I had to really step back, and evaluate what I was doing, and how I approached what I did.
That was when things started to change for the better. Before I suggested something to someone, I'd put myself in their shoes, and think about how it would fit into their practice and skill level. I learned patience. I kept my door open, and any time a colleague came by, whether I was teaching or not, I'd wave them in, listen, and see what I could do.
It amazed me how fast things began to change. All I had to do was wait for the right openings. Instead of pushing solutions on to others, I'd wait until someone came around with a problem. When my department started having a mess of marks as spreadsheets got fired back and forth, and people did or did not copy and paste correctly, I set up a Google Spreadsheet, shared it, and the problem was solved.
It is not a fast process, but I found that the key was to look at small things that saved others time, frustration, and effort. Small things that did not require much of them, and offered instant, observable benefits. That's the gateway drug, the gateway tech. That's where it starts.
Over time, with patience, and humility, I think we can effect the change in other teachers that we seek.
And then, once we open their eyes, we can start taking the good and the great, the best practices, the amazing resources, collecting them, collating them, and promoting their use.
We don't tell scientists to invent their own scientific method. We don't tell architects to draw up their own building codes. We don't ask doctors to whip up their own medicines. Professionals, including teachers, work best by building on what has come before, by implementing best practices, and not re-inventing the wheel each and every day.

Don’t Blink Eh?: Copyright Law is Changing in Canada – What It Means to Educators

Bill C-11 passed a House of Commons Vote this week and readings in the Canadian Senate have already begun. (Here's the full text of the bill in full-fledged legalese). So the writing on the wall is that Canadian Copyright Law is about to change. There are a lot of little goodies in the law that may help the average person. Some things that have been going on illegally for years will now be legal. Simple stuff like giving the ability to Canadians to:
  • record their favourite TV shows for later viewing (Yeah - TiVo'ing the late game on Hockey Night in Canada so you can watch it the next morning while eating a bowl of Shreddies is now legal!)

  • transfer music from your collection of Compact Discs or Vinyl LPs to a digital device (Yeah - ripping your RUSH Records so you can listen to Geddy Lee on your iPhone while eating a Beaver Tail is now legal!)
Canada is truly great, eh! But what's in it for educators? The practical answer to that question is still pending. People need more time to interpret Bill C-11 in the context of classroom courses, class websites, class discussion forums, and distribution of course materials for distance education. Some interpretations are already starting to become available and in the coming months more information will come to light. If you are a teacher, instructor, professor, or instructional designer then you will want to follow this for the next few months so that you can decide how it impacts your practice. So that you can start getting info, please find below some of the early interpretations and commentary on Bill C-11 from an education perspective. If you come across any other great links on the subject, please let me know by leaving a comment below. I will be sure to amend this blog post with the resources you provide. Thanks!

Careful: Test Cheaters are SMART!

A colleague of mine directed my attention to a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that describes a high-tech method where students can cheat on some multiple-choice exams in online courses. It’s a great read really.

Overall, I think that the way the students exploited the weakness in the course’s testing method is truly ingenious. They deserve a bit of credit for detecting, and then so intelligently exploiting, the flaws in this course. (Note: not enough credit to absolved them of their academic dishonesty though!) They honed in on two-specific facts: 1) that students could take the tests twice and get an average of the two scores, and 2) that the correct answers where given to the students immediately upon answering a question. These two facts brought to light a weakness in the course that could be exploited by an elegant collaborative turn-taking method of sharing correct answers using Google Docs among a small group of students.

Although it is not discussed in the article, I imagine that this course did not have a final exam, or if it did, it followed a similar format (multiple-choice, with the answers given immediately) and naturally was un-proctored. Therein lies one problem. If the final exam is not proctored then what incentives do the student have to learning anything during the semester? However, this point is moot if there was no final exam in the course.

In the case where there is no final exam and the weekly tests are essentially summative evaluations, more design features need to be put into place to give incentives to students to learn. Does the feature of being able to take a multiple choice test twice help students learn? In a summative evaluation, does the feature of giving students the answer to a given question immediately after answering help them learn?

What do you think would be a better design for this course? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Nearly a year later

…and Rightful Identity’s progress still at bay.

As of this post, Rightful Identity had a trial opening-free ebook copies to the first 100 readers. It received mild positive reviews, although I felt it lacked character development and a stronger structure. Following my instinct, I decided to rewrite it.

I have time to rewrite on planes. I travel quarterly now, so imagine how the pace is.

Also, many local residents do not own ebook readers. I mean the real locals-you know-the people I grew up with; who would identify with the characters in this book. By publishing electronically, I grossly missed my mark.

Therefore, when the book is completed and republished, it will also be available in hard or soft cover.

As a self-publisher, I am not stressed by a due date. However, my goal to complete and re-publish it nags me, especially during this time of night.

Humanline – more free images for educational use

I know I have written about free photo repositories before (here and here). Here’s the new kid on the block: Humanline. It’s an image library of arts, history and science that is mainly focused on licensing images for use in education (your ears should perk up now) and for commercial use. On the education side, a careful read of the license shows that for most applications usage is free of cost. The usual credit-line requirement is there; much like a Creative Commons-type license. There is a pre-validation step that you must undergo when applying for your free educational account that normally takes 48 hours.

At this time the database of images is not gigantic; however, it is growing. They are actively looking to partner with other image repositories, museums, galleries, private collectors or archives – basically any organization that has public domain images in their possession. Heck – maybe they should partner with Wikimedia Commons - they are HUGE! (*grin*).

You can browse the Humanline repository or search with key words. When I searched for ‘chemistry’ the selection was limited but it did return a very nice portrait illustration of Robert Boyle the 17th century Irish Chemist that is credited with several discoveries about gas laws. So if you were designing and developing a unit for first year chemistry, such a portrait could be useful. A search for the term ‘nightshade’ yielded some interesting classical illustrations of related plants. In an educational setting these engravings would be fun to compare to real life photos of the same plant.

So despite its limited size at this point, Humanline has potential. Do you know of any new image repositories that can be used freely in education settings? If so, please leave a comment below.

The eLearning Workroom on YouTube

It had to be done, I guess. I've now got the knack of doing video online on my own, but there really is no escaping that YouTube juggernaut. I hemmed and hawed over the idea, but finally decided to set up a dedicated channel for my new Educational Technology initiative, The eLearning Workroom.

The idea behind this initiative is to create videos and video series focused on a broader implementation of technology in the classroom, not so much on how I might use a certain whiz-bang neato thing with a couple of students in my own class, but more on how technology and online services can be harnessed in a way that it can benefit the faculty of an entire school or board, and the thousands of students connected to them.

Teachers are dedicated, often ingenious, but not always efficient. A teacher's classroom is, in practice, an isolated fiefdom. A place where procedures and traditions develop in a bespoke manner, where assignments and collected materials are both varied, and as unique as a fingerprint, from classroom to classroom.

It's not that teachers don't share resources, because they do, but almost always in a haphazard, ad-hoc manner. I might share worksheets with a colleague I like, but perhaps not with a colleague I am on the outs with. I might pop by the classroom next door, but perhaps not beyond that. Not everyone has all the best stuff, and often a herculean effort is endlessly required in order to find, make, and organize materials, worksheets, and lessons. More often, those herculean efforts need to be repeated as documents are lost, curriculum objectives shift, or people move.

This endless waste of time, just getting stuff together to use for a lesson, is the both the bane and the ordinary condition of almost any teacher. It is just a part of the job, and always has been. But that does not mean the situation is okay, or the situation has to stay. There is, in fact, a better way.

In the second video on the eLearning Workroom blog and channel, I begin a series where I explain and explore the power and utility of the Open Learning Network. The first video takes us step by step through the creation of the initial network, and subsequent videos will explore how we can link resources to this network, and utilize technology to do things with teaching that were not possible in the past.

Ever wanted to mark 1000 tests with the click of a button?

How about having an entire year long course prepared in advance?

What if you, your students, and their parents could access every pertinent piece of information they might need to succeed, all in a single place?

What if, instead of spending a third of your day trying to get your students to quiet down and listen, and a further half vainly trying to explain and re-explain the same concepts over and over again, you could skip all that, and free up more time in the classroom than you ever thought possible?

What if you could actually be a teacher? Not a task master, or a disciplinarian, or a burnt out wreck trying day by day just to make it to the last bell. But a teacher, in the truest sense. Not the font of all knowledge, but the guide, the friendly face, the helping hand.

That would be pretty nice, wouldn't it? 

The Act of Watching TV Goes Back to the Future

I got my wife the new iPad 2 for Christmas, and it quickly became the go to device for my kids for watching music videos and playing games. Recently, however, we started using it to watch TV shows.

Hooking it up to the TV was simple, we just had to buy a little adapter, and an HDMI cable, and voila! MP4s on the big screen. For some reason, our DVD player only supports Dvix/Xvid .AVI files, so MP4s were something we only saw on the computer.

But now we could watch them in their full compressed glory.

Only one hitch. Watching a show, pausing a show, or changing to another show requires someone (me) to ponderously leverage themselves off the couch, and stumble over to the TV table to hit the home button, unlock the screen, and hit the pause button.

It brought me right back to my childhood, back when this was how I had to change the channel when I was a child (only we turned a knob back then), back before there were remote controls.

But then, in back-twinge induced moment of insight, I realized something... Remote controls were never invented. No. They have always been with us, just changing forms, is all. Remotes today have two batteries, remotes back then had two legs.

I... did have a remote for the iPad! In fact, I had three just waiting to be called upon.

Now I need only mention "Oh I better pause the show..." and make to move in order to spur six little legs into motion, all competing to beat me to it.

As my parents had trained me, so I now pass that on to my children.

Until they make a remote for my iPad, you know, the kind with two batteries.

Or maybe I'll just stick with what I've got. For as long as I can, at least.

Memo to Leafs: Thai Girl Goalie is Awesome

It'll never happen, mostly because the Toronto Maple Leafs are addicted to sucking, and they like to fill their roster like the Oakland A's from Moneyball (except that the Leafs ride high on a pile of fithly lucre, which makes their actions seem doubly insane), but if they did decide to take a leap into the unknown, and maybe whip up some excitement, I dont think they could do any better than signing 17 year old Wasunun Angkulpattanasuk.

Wha? Who? You say.

Just recently, at the Under 18 Challenge Cup of Asia, the Thailand team found themselves sans a goalie. Apparently male Thai's think being a goalie is a sissy thing, which only goes to show that they haven't seen enough footage of Patrick Roy or Ron Hextall. In any event, since none of the boys would put on the mask, the Thai team had no choice but to take on little Wasunun as their lone hope in net.

Once in the UAE, the Thai team nearly faced disqualification for this coed situation, but since the goalies don't interact with the other players, the tournament officials argued, there would be no chance of gender contamination, and therefore she could play (*Again, Roy, Hextall, et al).

Maybe they thought a girl in net would be a great opportunity to light up the scoreboard. Who knows. But what they got was a size two skate up the rear, because this little firebrand wasn't just standing around.

By the end of the tournament, the Thais has scored 47 goals, with Wasunun letting in only 4 total. A GAA of 1!

Introducing the eLearning Workroom

I recently gave a talk at the TESOL Arabia Pecha Kucha 20X20 event at the Dubai Women's College, and the feedback I got was extremely positive. So much so that I was inspired to get moving a bit, and start producing videos aimed at educators hoping to grasp the e-learning basics that they may have been struggling with as their schools, and around the world, shift to more e-focused curricula. (Gasp! That was a lot to say in one breath!)

So I set up a new website solely for educators, featuring video tutorials. I would like to introduce to you The eLearning Workroom

My first post is my talk from TESOL ARABIA 2012. There was a technology malfunction, so I had to redo the audio. Same stuff, just nicer sounding!

Talkin’ with James

About a decade or so ago you would have found me rushing up and down the streets of Toronto going from one interview to the next. Not interviews for a job, but interviews with authors for my radio show "Covered & Bound" on CHRY 105.5FM, and later for my (now defunct) hand-coded-in-html blog "Engaging the Word".

I saved all those old interviews, an archive that numbers in the several hundreds, and I decided to start putting them back up online. I got to looking at Tumblr one day, and found that this was the perfect format for these interviews.

They are long form (20 minutes to 1 hour long)  interviews with authors from all across the publishing spectrum.

If you like HBO's A Game of Thrones, for example, you might want to check out the two interviews I did with George RR Martin.

I've linked to it at the top of this blog, or you can click this link here - Talkin' with James

Video is KING in distance education

With the field of Distance Education exploding due to the maturation of the Internet, it’s no wonder more good quality free academic content is finding its way on the web. Here’s a great example that I just learned about from Dr. James Harris at the University of Leeds in England. It’s called The Faculties and it contains video snipits of senior-level highschool (or junior-level university) lectures spanning several fields including Biology, Chemistry, English, History, Math, and Psychology. To date, they have produced over 360 videos with a promise of more to follow. If you are not in the business of distance education this repository remains useful. Instructors can request downloads of the videos so that they can be played for students even in classrooms that are not wired for the Internet.
This semester I am teaching a second year chemistry course via distance and I have some students in the class that have asked me if I could provide links to some useful videos on specific topics. Naturally, I am always on the lookout for them so I was very excited to learn about The Faculties. I’ve watched about a dozen videos so far and they are very good. There is definitively something for everyone in this repository and you can stay up-to-date on the progress in building this repository via Twitter (@thefaculties). Have a look at some of the videos and let us know what you think. Do you know of other similar free video repositories other than the standard YouTube search? If so, let us know by leaving a comment below.

Teaching and Learning Centres: Who Needs Them?

Short Answer: we do.

Long Answer: I work at an established Military College. By established I mean 1876. Futhermore, this Military College has been empowered to confer university degrees since 1959. So these two facts together will lend most observers to believe that teaching and learning has been going on here for many years.

So why isn’t there a Teaching and Learning Centre here? Hmm. I don’t really know. The question was raised again in my mind when I read the excellent report by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario entitled Teaching and Learning Centres: Their Evolving Role Within Ontario Colleges and Universities.

Have a read of this paper. After reading it I have a question for you. Can you think of any good reasons for denying instructors and students access to a Teaching and Learning Centre? If not, why aren’t they found at all post-secondary institutions? Please leave your answers in a comment below.

75,000 Hit Thursday!

Back in April 2010, I was ecstatic to report that this blog reached 50,000 hits. It took a glorious 5 years
and 8 months of blogging before this blog crossed the 50,000 hit threshold (that calculates out to an average of about 171 hits/week over the 5 year 8 month period). Well, the hit frequency is steadily growing because e-Learning Acupuncture crossed the 75,000 hit mark today and the most recent 25,000 hits were amassed in only 1 year and 9 months. During that time the average weekly number of hits has climbed to 284 hits/week. I love it!

Happy 75,000 Hit Thursday to all the independent bloggers out there! May the hits come fast and furious to you all for years to come!

Hello world!

Soldier crabs at Dundowran Beach

Welcome to WordPress.com. After you read this, you should delete and write your own post, with a new title above. Or hit Add New on the left (of the admin dashboard) to start a fresh post.

Here are some suggestions for your first post.

  1. You can find new ideas for what to blog about by reading the Daily Post.
  2. Add PressThis to your browser. It creates a new blog post for you about any interesting  page you read on the web.
  3. Make some changes to this page, and then hit preview on the right. You can always preview any post or edit it before you share it to the world.

It’s Out

Rightful Identity is now in print as of September 9, 2011.

If you’ve already read it, it’s time for you to post your comments. If you haven’t gotten a hold of a copy, these are the directions to get it:

1. Go to: http://smashwords.com

2. Subscribe to the free membership.

3. Turn off your adult content filter.

4. In the “Search” Box, enter Rightful Identity or Jackie Pias Carlin.


When you’re ready, send your comments in.





Hello world!

Welcome to WordPress.com. After you read this, you should delete and write your own post, with a new title above. Or hit Add New on the left (of the admin dashboard) to start a fresh post.

Here are some suggestions for your first post.

  1. You can find new ideas for what to blog about by reading the Daily Post.
  2. Add PressThis to your browser. It creates a new blog post for you about any interesting  page you read on the web.
  3. Make some changes to this page, and then hit preview on the right. You can alway preview any post or edit you before you share it to the world.

What’s Going On?

It seems to me that the current explosion in the use of social networking is a big part of the key to being successful with eLearning. Well.... maybe higher learning in general! The use of instant messaging between faculty and with their students, between students, and even within institutions has cast a new light on how we interact with each other. Of course, care must be exercised here, but these technologies provide an opportunity for a "Next Level" enrichment of the educational enterprise. The quick sharing of materials, links to news, videos, thought questions, as well as support during the college experience is available now unlike at any other time. My students immediately contact me about problems with assignments, questions about concepts, applications of course material to their own lives, and issues in attending college and career choice.

My friend and colleague ProfGesser on Twitter is using several social networking tools to further his goal of increasing student engagement in social issues in his Sociology classes. Especially for those dedicated few who are constantly seeing a "teachable moment" in their daily lives and are willing to take the time to share it with their students, mobile technology and social networks can take a lot more work.... but can also help us to connect with students in a more meaningful way than traditional office hours alone did not allow.

KPA Presentation

Hello Readers,
In choosing some of the most useful new programs and services to discuss under the topic "Innovative Technology," I've tried to look at those services/programs that are most useful in achieving the most common objectives teachers might have for learning units. The "Wow Factor" is often very seductive, but can lead us down a road of wasted time and loss of productivity. My approach to selecting new technology is to evaluate it based on whether it can actually support an important objective for a particular learning unit. Some of the innovations are more useful for online students, some are great for the more traditional classroom. Often, my best finds come from trying to find a way to achieve a particular goal in an online class that I can easily accomplish in the traditional classroom.
For instance: Years ago, I published an article in the Methods and Techniques section of Teaching of Psychology that demonstrated some of the perceptual and behavior changes that results from the "Split-Brain" operation. The class activity I developed worked great for helping students to get a feel for what it must be like to have been the recipient of the this procedure ( http://www.apa.org/ed/split.html). Later, as I was trying to find a way to use this activity with my online students, I began using video editing software to make little instructional movies. This has resulted in one of the most useful and popular parts of my online classes.
I have also insisted that I needed to have live interaction with my online students. In my early days of teaching online classes, I used simple chats to create a "virtual classroom." I continued to work on improving this effort to make a more interactive and student friendly experience for my classes. The creation of webconferencing tools such as Elluminate Live! has led to a truly interactive experience for my students that increases my connection with them and allows for greater freedom in the kind of activities and materials I can share with them. More recently, the availability of a free, three-person room from Elluminate, called a VRoom (for "virtual room") has opened up so many more possibilities, such as "virtual office hours," and colleague consultation.

So, the purpose of this blog entry is to provide the reader with some links to products and services that I have found to be great for furthering my classroom (virtual, or RL) objectives. I hope you find them useful. Here they are:

  • A great source for ways to improve your PowerPoint presentations can be found at the University of Minnesota Active Learning with PowerPoint site. It has great tips and tutorials. Thanks to Sally Kuhlenschmidt of the FACET at WKU for turning me on to it.

  • Annenberg has some great resources for Psychology teachers that are free at easy to use. the Discovering Psychology series is just the starting point for great additions to classes, both online and on-campus.

  • GoogleDocs can be a great way to share files and collaborate with other faculty on projects. But it is also a great tool for enabling students to work together on projects such as presentations and papers that faculty want them to use the "wiki" approach on. Vince DiNoto (Jefferson CTC), who taught me in my first online class, introduced me to this useful tool.

  • Blackboard Collaborate is an outstanding resource for building community, collaboration, creating multimedia presentations online, and other activities that enhance both online and web-enhanced classes. Want to invite a guest speaker to your class, but they are too far away, or busy, to make the trip? Invite them to speak to your class via the "virtual classroom."

  • Second Life is a Multi-User Virtual Environment that is on the cutting-edge of what distance learning can resemble in the future. A virtual environment that is capable of combining the most attractive features of a social network and a versatile learning platform, SL is richly supported by a host of educators who are passionate about this new world of possibilities. For Psychology, the possibilities are endless in SL. We can investigate an endless number of social and cognitive phenomena, as well as present information in simulations, demonstrations, and in an exploratory approach, all within a media rich environment, almost as diverse as the real world. See my video on A Day in The Second Life for a basic look at life "in-world." Institutions in Second Life looks at how some major institutions are using Second Life to inform and train their users. In A Tour of Second Life, you will see some interesting sites within SL that illustrate its power to educate and inform.
  • PSYCHTEACH is an important tool for teachers of Psychology. PSYCHTEACH is a LSTSERV that is a very active community of teacher of psychology with a broad range of interests and expertise. It's a great source of information about events, position openings, teaching methods, innovations, and "where-to-find" resources. Ask a question of your peers! To subscribe, contact Bill Hill at: bhill@kennesaw.edu

Well, I hope the reader finds something useful here. This rambling discussion points to some methods and techniques that I have found useful in the last few of my 29 years of college teaching. Enjoy! And don't forget to let me know if YOU find anything useful.
Ed Morris (AKA Spender Voom)