Archive for April, 2007

Course Packet: Open in case of Pandemic Flu Emergency

April 19, 2007

This is the course packet that derived from my previous analysis on Pandemic Flu and the Web 2.0 University.

Dear Student,

You are reading this because the university has declared an flu emergency and dispersed students and faculty for 8-12 weeks. During this time, your learning can continue, and perhaps be heightened and focused by this event.

First, take care of yourself and those important to you and heed health precautions.

Second, keep a journal. Record your situation, and your reflections on the local, regional, national, and international situation. Continue your class readings, and examine the events you are seeing through the lens of your courses. As you are able, look for other readings related to your class and these events. Don’t forget your camera, it might be a powerful aid to your journaling.

While your course is not meeting, and the original syllabus has been suspended for this emergency, your class will be active and involved with a “Teach-in” on Pandemic Flu. During this emergency period, we are expecting you to look at your personal situation through the lens of your courses. You should consider the title of your course to be changed for the duration of the emergency to “Pandemic Flu and ___” (insert original course title in blank), e.g., Pandemic Flu and History of Photography. The university knows you can learn substantially from this event and our responsibility is to help you demonstrate that learning.

Third, keep in touch. This web page (insert URL) will give current emergency status, and our portal will provide you course specific links. However, you cannot count on WSU resources, because we know its possible that WSU will be offline during parts of this emergency, or that you will be offline, or your instructor or classmates will be. Please be resourceful and take the steps below to enhance the chance that as many of us as possible can stay in touch with each other.

To aid you finding one another, and maintaining contact, WSU will maintain a group in Facebook, and another in Google Groups. Our goal will be to post the same information into each of these systems, with the hope they will remain up. Search for “WAZZU” and lurk or join the groups as you find appropriate.

Also search for your class, or create a group for your class, in these systems. Group names should be of the form “WAZZU-course prefix-course number” E.g., WAZZU-ECON-101 (no spaces, use dashes). Try to post the same information in each system for redundancy. You can also use these same identifiers to tag materials in other systems (more on tags below). Post your journal online as you are able (suggestions for ways to post below) and link your journal to these groups.

Fourth, help one another learn. When you return, your instructors will ask you to create a portfolio, using your journal entries, to demonstrate your learning. They will be assessing that portfolio with this rubric (insert link). Use the rubric to judge your journal, ask family or others near you to use it to help you sharpen your thinking. When you meet fellow students online, use the rubric to help give them feedback and support. We have research evidence that students’ judgments agree well with faculty scoring using this tool, so peer feedback using the rubric will be helpful to your learning. Keep the feedback, you might want to reflect on it also.

Wishing you the best until we meet again on campus.

Detailed instructions and ideas on Tags, Posting journals online, etc, follow here. This section will include pointers to tools like:, technorati, Google Alerts, RSS aggregators, podcasts, UTube, Flickr, Blogger, Facebook and Google Groups.

Note: I recognize that for some courses, this specific teach-in model won’t work, but I think that resourceful people using Web 2.0 approaches can still advance the learning in those courses. Consider a music performance class, students might record their playing, might journal about it, might share clips online. Using Skype small ensembles might play together, etc.

Wiki for Original Research

April 18, 2007

In SOTLing: Open Research Wiki? Theron DesRosier asks about a wiki for publishing original research, noting that Wikipedia explicitly eschews it in its encyclopedic mission. Its an interesting question: what are the appropriate ways to get original research published? What mechanisms of peer review are desirable? How might publication be an invitation to collaboration?

I struggled with some of these issues in my thoughts about 21st Century Resume. The traditional academic resume values publication is specific venues. Is it possible to play in that world and a Web 2.0 one — or must you choose one side of the fence or the other.

Theron’s quest for a wiki for original research stemmed out of a suggestion that he publish some of his work on students and faculty assessment of writing using WSU’s Critical Thinking Rubric. His notion was to find a place to publish that avoided lengthly processes AND where others could critique and collaborate. I think it was Gregory Bateson who said (I paraphrase) “The meaning of the message is the change that it makes.” and I think Theron is looking for a place where his message might make change.

  • So, why not post the article in SOTLing? Perhaps because its a new blog without a reputation — but it could be Theron’s portfolio.
  • What about WSU wiki? It has a bit more reputation with Google, but only the WSU community can edit it.

Where I left off in this discussion with Theron was to urge that he put is somewhere. And point at it from his blog, and link it from other CTLT resources at WSU wiki. There might even be a place to point at it from Wikipedia. That will help the work gain Google rank.

AND, if Theron finds another place to publish, I encourage him to copy the article to another forum and add a note (without deleting the article) on the original page about where the article was copied and why.

Does this blow Theron’s chances to publish in a traditional journal. Probably, but so what.

Pandemic Flu and the Web 2.0 University

April 18, 2007

Washington State University is going through an exercise to plan for a pandemic and the dispersion of faculty and students without canceling classes or closing the university (we don’t want to refund tuition). The thinking is along the lines of moving all the current face-to-face courses into WebCT and continue online. Presently there are 3500 group instruction course sections/semester (not counting thesis and other individualized directed study classes) and currently ~1000 are being offered or supplemented in WebCT. The question is, how would the university add by ~2500 sections in the run-up to a pandemic outbreak?

If we start the scale up now, moving all sections online, we could develop a deliberate process and given time, move each course, including providing the training, etc. needed. Ideally, we would include course design work in the process with the goal of improving the learning outcomes of the courses while we were at it.
If we wait until the next flu season and an immenent declaration of an emergency, there does not seem to be any way to expect that we could scale up the hardware or the faculty training, especially given that some of the key people might become sick themselves.

So assume the university could decide to, and successfully go down the deliberate scale-up path. We need to consider that WebCT and the WSU campus network are potential single points of failure. Individual students or faculty might also experience single points of failure with their ISPs. Using a traditional model of an online course: readings, PowerPoint, video/audio streaming, and quizzes, etc., we probably need to conclude that because of the multiple single points of failure many students will not be able to complete their course work during the diaspora.

Is there another model of a collaborative, adaptive group that:

  • has a clear goal and can recognize (self- & peer-critique) progress toward the goal,
  • uses multiple redundant communications channels and has ways of changing communication channels to meet changing circumstances,
  • can continue to function with breakdowns in its command structure, or without one,
  • where individuals can continue to function when the group is out of communications, and
  • can recognize members of the group by some sign without a central authority providing introductions?

Does this sound like a Smart Mob? Or a terrorist cell? Or a military unit? What can we learn from those organizations and how would it apply to designing a university that would function during a pandemic?

Pandemic as teach-in

Rather than an obstacle to overcome, what if we were to say that the pandemic is itself an authentic learning opportunity for our students. Each university course could create a learning goal that tied to the pandemic, i.e., the sociology of pandemic, microeconomic impacts of pandemic, women’s history and pandemic, etc, etc.

Students would be charged with undertaking activities, individually and as collaborative groups relative to the subject and their personal situation. The course assessment would be using a pre-published rubric (such as the critical thinking rubric) and the artifact to assess would be a portfolio chronicling the student’s activity and learning during the pandemic event.

To manage the communications problem, a Web 2.0 approach needs to be designed. Tags and keywords would be agreed in advance (much like secret handshakes or signs) and these would be used to mark items on the web. Since single points of failure might cripple any single system, learners would use multiple systems, such as Wikipedia, Google Groups, Facebook groups, Blogger,, etc and create resources marked with the tags. Users would also be asked to post pointers in one system to resources in another, for example, in the Facebook group a user who found resources in would post a copy of the links found in That way, if any given system is out, or any given user offline, others have ways to work around the outage.

When the pandemic is over, instructors ask students to complete their portfolios, including copies or links to appropriate resources and a reflection on how those resources give evidence to their deeper understanding of the relationship between the course topic and pandemic. Assessment is by the rubric.

Online-Offline Community and Saving The Bus

April 9, 2007

In January 2007 a group of riders on the Wheatland Express bus launched a campaign to save the bus from possible demise due to University of Idaho cancellation of funding. You can see the website at

This is my reflection on what I learned in the project and the role of blending online and face-to-face communities in its success.

As with most things, it starts with Theron Desrosier and his analysis for me about Noam Chomsky’s comments about new political communities. Chomsky spoke at Washington State University April 22, 2006 and in his remarks Theron heard ideas about a new political process where the community develops its “platform” and then seeks candidates to implement it (as opposed to candidates declaring a platform (competing platforms) and then forcing the electorate to choose the lesser of evils among them). As Theron and I have come to understand some of Chomsky’s ideas they involve facilitating a community talking to itself about what it feels is important.

A key assumption that SaveTheBus faced relates to local politics and online community. Local communities think of themselves as face-to-face and in this mode they perceive that they talk among themselves. But face-to-face communities are limited by logistics of meeting one another. Online communities are assumed to suffer from lack of attention due to their ethereal nature, but they have the advantage of being attended on an asynchronous (when you can) basis. Our challenge was to learn how to mix these modes of community so that the online one could help overcome the limitations of face-to-face meeting.

The bus is a unique face-to-face community. It is fairly small, and its members attend it on a regular basis (while riding between campuses). But, at the same time, its a fragmented community. Riders are on different schedules and some riders never see or know one another. Further, the seating arrangement is conducive to 1-1 conversation, but not to mixing or group discussion.

Theron and I believed that an online community could be joined to a face-to-face one in ways that could overcome the limitations of each, and in ways that subscribed to Chomsky’s ideas about a community building an agenda and taking it to leaders.

To explore those ideas, I created an online space where bus supporters could email why they valued the bus and why it should be saved. Using small signs on the bus, riders were informed of the site, encouraged to subscribe to updates from the site and visit it regularly. A logo was created out of the site’s URL. The press was directed to the site, and when particularly compelling letters arrived they were forwarded to press and radio reporters as story ideas.

Periodically, the emails were compiled and printed, four to a sheet of paper, and distributed on the bus. This served two purposes — it brought the website to the people and it gave the community something to talk about as they rode.

Some of the most compelling authors to SaveTheBus were encouraged to resend their letters to one of the local newspapers (two campus papers and a city paper). When possible, letter writers were encouraged to add a sentence reference to in their letter to the editor to market the site.

For me, the most compelling evidence for the success of the strategy is not the saving of bus funding (which did happen) but the richness of the site and the multiple conversations that were triggered around the community. The letters from riders provided a rich context in which to understand the importance of the bus to multiple constituencies. They also served as a means to further conversations, as when readers would comment to authors “I saw your letter…”

Further, the effort developed momentum in larger face-to-face audiences, as when Tom Lamar opened his comments on the role of mass transit at the MoscowClimateChange forum ( with the comment “We have to save the [Wheatland] bus.” Radio Free Moscow and KUOI radio each aired stories, as did the Daily News, UI Argonaut, and Daily Evergreen newspapers.

The site was also used to post data about the bus and its riders. This helped the community frame the discussion around evidence that it found important and provided a single place for new visitor to the community to find both context and perspectives. To bring the data from the site to a face-to-face community, we created a two page flyer that listed key data and quotes, which was distributed at a public forum.

The site was a Google Group threaded discussion, and as it grew, it became somewhat jumbled and reading became more difficult. To reach the important audience of university decision makers, a community member compiled all the letters into a printable anthology. This document, by its size, carried its own rhetorical weight.

The current status of the project is that the bus funding appears secured for another year and, more importantly, the community knows its voice and understands the multiple reasons why the bus is an important resource.

An important conclusion that I draw from this work is that the web can be integrated into a local community’s political organizing. It requires effort to make the site participatory, with multiple perspectives and authoritative, with data that has been collected about the problem and is open to inspection, support or refutation.

Another conclusion is that the web site needs to be brought back to the community through active agency. This can include email updates by subscription, redirecting key documents from the site to the press and other key communicators, and by bringing the contents of the site to the community in print and other media. Finally, as a matter of reader logistics, the Google Group failed because it quickly became cluttered. An RSS feed from the community site to a more managed web presence could help readers new to the site get oriented to key documents as well as the current discussion.