Wednesday, July 29, 2015

#NTPoC Unit 3: SNA Artifact Challenge

In Unit 3 of our Power of Connections learning experience, Stacy asked us to map our social networks using the tools she had suggested. Here are some of my "findings."

My Twitter map doesn't show anything surprising. Most of my connections are in the US, with the exception of a small group scattered throughout Europe and the Middle East.

Here is the second map of my Twitter connections and it tells the same story, only in percentages.

My LinkedIn social network is actually much more interesting.

For starters, it is much more diverse than my Twitter network. My connections on LinkedIn have been formed while I was at different companies focused on different parts of the education industry. I have contacts in publishing, educational technology, publishing technologies, content management, Higher Education and learning design. Not surprisingly, while my network is sizable, it is not incredibly interconnected. In other words, few of these people would not be connected in any way without me.

Interestingly, that lack of "connectedness" does not diminish the value of this network, at least in the way that I use it. For me, LinkedIn is about staying connected to multiple industries, and about having access to experts in those industries. It's like a professional reference (a professional Wikipedia). In that context, it continues to serve me extremely well.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

An Early Timeline of My Personal Computers

Stacy Zemke created a great Artifact Challenge for Unit 2 of our Power of Connections learning experience -- Framing Connections Through a Personal Archive.

The task is to make connections with your past by creating either a history of your Web presence or of your personal computing life. I opted for the latter as it says a great deal about the practical or adaptive approach I've taken to personal computing over the years.

You can see pictures of my primary personal computing devices from 1983-2005 on this Pinterest page, and here is a bit more detail on some of the specific machines shown.

Commodore 64 -- My parents gave me this personal computer as a graduation gift when I received my M.A. from Texas Tech in 1983. Until that time I had done all my typing on a Remington manual typewriter and an old IBM Selectric. The Commodore 64 had two joystick ports (you played four-player games by having the other two use the keyboard), a 5 1/4" floppy drive, and hooked into any small TV.  I bought a third-party dot matrix printer that allowed be to change fonts by changing dip switch settings, and used this for much of my coursework at the University of Texas.

Apple IIe -- A friend was selling off some equipment in 1986 and I bought an Apple IIe. This was an eye opener for me as the Commodore had required me to type in commands such as "Load" and "Run" just to access programs. The Apple IIe was my first experience with self-loading programs and something resembling and actual menu.

Apple IIc -- I like my IIe so much I couldn't wait to by a IIc (circa 1988/89). I typed the first chapters of my dissertation on the IIc and my daughter, born in 1987, played Treehouse and other games on it in her early years.

IBM PC -- When I took my first faculty job in 1990, the department issued me an IBM PC with dual floppy drives (3 1/2"). You booted Word Perfect or some other program from a disk on the left drive and stored data on a disk in the right drive. I had used WordPro and other PC-based word processing systems in the past, but this was the point at which I converted to DOS-based Word Perfect for much of the 90s.  I knew all the keystrokes, created my own macros and, in general, couldn't imagine computing getting much better. I finished my dissertation on this machine and also wrote my first article on it.

Macintosh Classic -- My personal life went through some changes beginning in 1997 and, not surprisingly, so did my computing life. I moved to a new teaching position in a new town, and along the way picked up an old Macintosh Classic. While it didn't connect to the Internet (I did all my Internet research and e-mail at the University library during this period), it was amazingly reliable and also provided my introduction to Microsoft Word.

Compaq Armada -- By 1998 my writing projects were increasing rapidly and I wanted something cheap that was also portable. Enter the used Compaq Armada laptop that ran DOS and has Word Perfect installed. It was blazing fast and really familiar. It allowed me to teach at multiple institutions, write on the go, and be extremely productive.

Dell Laptop (2003/4) -- I actually owned a number of desktops and Dell laptops at the university from 1999-2003, but this laptop is memorable because it came with the founding of a startup in Boston and represented a whole new way of thinking about productivity and communication. My wife worked for the company as well as still has hers (that she uses daily!).

Fujitsu Laptop -- The Fujitsu was my first experiment with "tablet" computing and, except for the limited computing power, was an enjoyable little machine. I like taking notes by hand and used One Note with great delight during this time (really!).

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Mashup Report: "MOOCs"

I've been working on a new feature for the Learning Lot and am happy to roll it out today. So here, in the the maiden voyage of The Mashup Report, I present an interview with MOOC visionary and expert, Dr. Simon Lafoon.  Hope you enjoy it.


 [The Mashup Report is compiled by Rob Reynolds and Vicky Woodward]

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Power of Connections: Make a Connection

The first Artifact Challenge in our Power of Connections learning experience is to introduce yourself through a picture of your desktop, bookshelf or some other selfie that captures your identity.

I started out by taking a "staged" picture of my bookshelf (the shoes were an addition).

Unfortunately, my bookshelf mostly consists of the sad remnants of a former life in which I actually collected print books. What remains are a few literary and Latin American novels (top shelf), religious books and more literary stuff (second shelf), math, science, and notebooks (third shelf), and then more notebooks, running shoes, and, last but not least, my FAVORITE TRILOGY OF ALL TIME, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever (bottom shelf).

While all this says plenty about me, I suppose, It's not the clear, iconic lens I was hoping for.

Then it occurred to me. I do have an object that sums me up in a whole different way. My favorite belt buckle.

In its own way, it is a great snapshot of an either-handed, bilingual kid who has deep roots in the Southwest, loves Westerns (movies and books), but who is also at home in a big city.

The Power of Connections: The Power of Constraint

One of the best ways to expand thinking is to impose constraints.

Discipline on thinking makes us think in new ways. This happens regularly in product development. There can be market constraints, materials constraints, research constraints, and those constraints force companies to be more innovative. They have to look at their products and markets differently to meet the demands of these constraints. And that’s one of the ways they improve.

This works in education as well. Constraints can force students to think differently, more expansively. In other words, constraints can help students learn.

A valuable technique to impose constraints in education is through classroom improvisations. Improvisations focus the mind on a limited number of items and situations that can be taken under consideration, and thus they require students to dig deeper and think in new ways.

Here are some principle values of constraint when it comes to critical thinking:

1. Constraints encourage us to see the same things in a new way. We’re patterned to see the world and the objects and ideas in it in a repetitive, non-creative way. We are prisoners to our thought habits. It’s difficult to break through the patterns of seeing and thinking that we’ve become accustomed to. We’re stuck with what we know. But if we take away some of the elements of the normal narrative, all of a sudden the world looks and behaves differently. We have new perspective.

2. Constraints prompt us to explore paths we probably wouldn’t ordinarily consider, paths we might not even ordinarily see. If you ask students in a class for solutions to particular problems, they’re like to throw out the same-old same-old they’ve grown used to. If you impose constraints it’s likely that the usual solutions won’t work anymore, and so they have to consider new alternatives.

3. Constraints allow us to re-consider solutions we’ve previously marked as “This will not work.” We tend to operate under the mantras of “We’ve tried that and it didn’t work,” or “But that’s not what it’s designed for,” or “This is the only way it can be done.” But constraints can be the mother of invention and encourage us to question our previous assumptions. This is what happened in the movie Apollo 13. “We only have this much time, this much amperage, this much oxygen, and by golly we have to make it work!” Most importantly, it was a situation the engineers had never dreamed of. And those seemingly impossible constraints made the ground crew think beyond the limits they’d previously set for themselves.

4. Constraints help us see the real value of certain elements or information. We operate with unquestioned assumptions regarding solutions we need, and we lazily do not stretch ourselves to consider novel ideas to recurring problems. But by taking away some of the parts of a solution, we’re often able to see the remaining parts in a new light, recognizing value we previously ignored.

I’ve watched student and student come out of their shell and surprise not only me and their classmates but themselves as well with remarkable creativity when put in a situation that forced them to consider the variables in a whole new light. It’s a fulfilling sight to see.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Power of Connections: What Is Student Engagement?

Julie Lindsay: Social Entrepreneurship Student Workshop
Student engagement is something we talk about all the time. But what are we really talking about when we’re talking about student engagement?
What we’re talking about, simply put, is how to get students to be more active in our courses.

We want to see evidence that students are participating in ways that are meaningful to them, but I think we struggle with understanding what makes participation “meaningful,” particularly in online and hybrid courses.

We need to ask some fundamental questions about student engagement – why it’s important, how to design for it in our courses, and who is ultimately responsible for making it happen. Specifically, we need to ask:

  • What is the relationship, if any, between student engagement during the course and learning that endures beyond the course?
  • Can meaningful participation be tracked through assignments and recorded in a gradebook? If not, how do we measure it and design for it? 
  • If we define student engagement as network activity and/or connectedness with other learners, learning communities, and information sources, how do we measure that engagement? 
  • Is meaningful student engagement about designing better assignments, aligning those closely to course objectives, and working to get students to complete those assignments? If so, what do we need to do differently in our content design to foster greater student engagement? 
  • What role does the instructor or facilitator play in student engagement? 
  • Who bears the responsibility – or the greatest responsibility – for student engagement in a learning experience?
One of our purposes with Power of Connections is to ask these questions and to build exploratory, collaborative models to help us begin framing answers to them. Naturally, we want to ask our course participants and teaching colleagues – we’d be crazy not to take advantage of crowdsourcing opportunities – but most of all we want to ask ourselves these questions.
Personally, I’m sympathetic with institutions and their emphasis on measuring student engagement by hard data points – attendance, measurable participation in class activities, and grades. Institutions are not teachers. They’re trying to solve macro problems such as retention.

And yes, student engagement can certainly be an important factor when we’re talking about retention, but there are other factors as well. From my experience, discovering new ways to increase student engagement doesn’t come from macro analyses. There are too many dynamic elements and too many personal ones, and they simply can best be discovered and cultivated in the day-to-day teaching and learning “weeds” of a course. 

So now let’s come back to the question, “What is student engagement?” or, better yet, “What do I think student engagement is?”

To be honest I’m still working on my final answer, or at least my next iteration of it, but here is the foundation for my thinking and exploration – student engagement is about helping learners grow their personal learning networks.

In other words, I believe we should replace our course-centric model with a learner-centric one.

We should think of each learner as the center point of a vast network of nodes. Each node in that network represents a connection to a person or a source of information. The learner’s network can also intersect with other learner networks and communities. And perhaps most importantly, these nodes, if student engagement has been successful during the course, those nodes will evolve and expand over time.

Our proper role as teachers and facilitators is to foster the greatest possible increase in connections within each learner’s personal learning network that will benefit the learner over the course of a lifetime. That will lead to the biggest impact on learning.

And that’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about student engagement.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Power of Connections: Teacher Engagement and the Iceberg Dilemma

As part of the build-out of Power of Connections, I've been giving a great deal of thought to the notion of teacher engagement (see here and here). As part of this reflecting process, I've been thinking about how course creation and delivery differ in online and face-to-face environments.

Specifically, it seems to me that we often fall prey ot what I call the "iceberg dilemma" when it comes to online design and instruction. This dilemma, I think, can be attributed to a fundamental difference/assumption between teaching face-to-face and online.

When we're preparing and teaching face-to-face courses, we generally look at the course content as a foundation for the actual course, but are keenly aware that this is only a point of departure. Once the content is prepared we, as instructors, must go in and present that content. We must also elaborate iteratively throughout the course of the curriculum based on feedback we receive from students, and work to connect students and information beyond the base content. Using my iceberg model, we realize that content, and even initial delivery, are only the tip of the iceberg. The real teaching engagement and learning happens beyond that (beneath the content surface).

While it certainly doesn't have to be that way, many of our models for online course design and delivery focus almost exclusively on content, or just the tip of the iceberg. We design our content and build it within a platform, and then we allow the platform to do the majority of the delivery. This is the majority of the course apart from managing assignments. In other words, there is little in-course iteration and sparse effort at student engagement through connection.

The realization I am coming to is that, in online learning, teacher engagement is what happens after the content is built and delivered (with exceptions like Laura Gibbs who build her content openly and engages even at that level). Again, it doesn't have to be that way but it seems to be the rule as opposed to the exception.

What excites me about Power of Connections is that we are going to be spending so much time "beyond the content," working on the part of the iceberg beneath the surface. I think this is where teacher engagement really happens (at least for me), and it's certainly where I'll have lots of fun.