Archive for July, 2007

Public participation unconstrained by physical locale

July 30, 2007

In the current issue of Watersheds Messenger, a publication of the Western Watersheds Project, Brian Ertz describes how conservationists have used the Internet to organize and share information. He goes on with a vision “Western Watershed’s Project is well known for its vital contribution to public-oversight…. What if we could wield the cohesion and organization we already practice online more directly toward that end?

Now imagine for a moment a nearly empty public hearing in Wells, Nevada; a couple of cowboys are sitting up front as some college kid walks through the door, pulls out a camera, a laptop, and a cord. Within ten minutes the agency personnel are sitting back in their chairs watching a live projected image of Jon Marvel warning against an ill-advised chaining of hundreds/thousands of acres of Pinyon Pines – all for the almighty cow. A few minutes later John Carter is in real-time giving one of his acclaimed power-point presentations citing real science. Whereas before agency folk might have been able to close up shop early, now they will be forced to burn every last minute watching and listening to a sophisticated demonstration of conservationists who care.”

Ertz has recognized the increasing bandwidth of the Internet and is extending the reach of the web to bring people to places in ad hoc ways. I’d understood Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs in terms of organizing social action, but had not seen projecting the social action into a remote location.

I also note in this edition of the Watersheds Messenger that one of the donors this quarter is my alma matter, Whitman College. I can only hope that Whitman is giving to WWP because they understand that the work of WWP can provide students with authentic experiences and global literacies in both science and public advocacy.

Land Grant 2.0

July 30, 2007

Washington State University’s new Vice President for Economic Development and WSU Extension, John Gardner writes,

“My sense at reading the expectations of Washingtonians, the Regents, and our students is an amazing amount of consensus. They want a state university that gives them a leg up in the new economy, knows the new rules, and will assist WA and the Pacific Northwest to be among the innovation leaders globally.”


“A common theme in them all is the clear responsibility we have to build our capacity for creativity and research. And – importantly – an obligation to couple that research with application in adding value to our students, businesses, the environment, government and the economy as a whole.”

Several of Gardner’s posts indicate that he is trying to re-think “Extension” in a land-grant university and connect its historic mission with the Web 2.0 realities. This is a very interesting direction.

Regarding the last quote, its worth looking at ThinkCycle which seems to be engaged in an Extension-like coupling of universities with creative capacity to people with real problems. They say:

“At the heart of the community is an evolving database of reasonably well-posed problems and ongoing design solutions contributed by universities, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), companies and the general public. The system is primarily aimed at, but in no way limited to, using the design and engineering skills of the students and researchers in universities worldwide. One scenario is for professors to assign challenges to their students, assist them in working collaboratively with communities and organizations in developing countries while encouraging peer review from domain experts of evolving design solutions archived on ThinkCycle. Motivated teams of students may also work on critical design challenges as independent study projects with their departments. The objective is to document all evolving design solutions, rationale, processes, peer reviews and contributions within a searchable and cross-referenced system.

What strikes me about this approach is the global literacies that ThinkCycle is promoting which I marked in bold in the quotation above. Not only are students gaining experience on problems, they are building evidence of their competencies in what might be called a portfolio within the ThinkCycle system. Since the system is open for searching, one could imagine members of one team seeking out people in the system who have demonstrated expertise in a related area and enlisting their help.

What is important about this form of global university education is that it is authentic and open. Its not a closed couse in WebCT and the problems are not toys with right answers set by the instructor.

Elsewhere, Gardner says of Extension “Our faculty located in county offices across the state provide a network of local contacts, invaluable to knowing and responding to the needs of Washingtonians.” This knowing and responding could well involve students, as extension faculty bring problems into focus in the same way ThinkCycle does.

Global University Rankings Web 1.0 and Web 2.0

July 25, 2007

Ignore the Global University Rankings, its Web 1.0
This site uses counts on inbound links among 300 universities to develop a rating scheme for each of the universities. Its a “reputation” type of system, the more times that other universities link to your university, the higher your university’s ranking. The chart shows that Washington State University’s ranking of 123 results from substantially fewer links (its nonlinear) than top rated schools.

It would be interesting to locate the AAU schools and see how many links we need to become AAU-like. Which begs the question, what would WSU need to do differently to move up the ranks from rank 123?

There is a tension in this plan, because it expects the university community to work from within the university’s domain to build its reputation. We can debate if this blog constitutes “good” content, but as the rating system above works, it will not attract more score for WSU, since its not within university’s domain. And its not here, for reasons I stated when I launched it — basically, who’s reputation do I want to build anyway?

First step to getting more links is to put good content into our website. Competing with putting content on the web site is putting it in refereed publications. Until the university changes how it thinks about self-publishing and building a reputation in Web 2.0, terms its not likely to win this battle.

Analysis of Global Rankings in Web 1.0 terms

The Web 2.0 Analysis
The Global University Rankings are trying to be reputation based, but the reputation needs to be earned wider than on other university domains. As designed, this is the Broadcast model, but reputation is really about community. Its unlikely that our Marketing or News organizations will be building many links to other universities, and the same applies in reverse. So the linking needs to come from students, faculty and staff, pointing at good work at other places. That sounds a lot like communities of bloggers, linking one another and resources they find useful. Students and faculty would blogroll the university if they found selfish reasons, such as good networking, would come from connecting to the university.

So, where I get in this analysis is that, in a Web 2.0 world, users will build from the platforms that work for them, and those are not necessarily platforms within the university domain. Further, I think there is an argument here that the university is ill suited to establish the platforms that are needed — because the platforms, like Flickr or demand larger numbers of participants to be rich and interesting than the university can muster.
The Web 2.0 analysis

The Long Tail and Global Higher Education

July 17, 2007

Our Morning Reading Group is reading a Stephen Downes’ piece eLearning 2.0 on Wednesday (7/18/07). It got me thinking about our ePortfolio work and the discussions about our upcoming ePortfolio contest.

As usual, I landed in Theron’s office and we got to talking about the long tail and and drawing an analogy to education. The analogy went like this. Barnes & Noble sells only the current big sellers and clears lower volume titles out of its inventory. Amazon makes many of its sales from the “long tail” of books that are small volume sellers. The classic university offers high volumes of instruction across a small inventory of topics. The Web 2.0 university is a long tail organization, it exploits global resources (each of whom contribute a small amount) to provide a very wide inventory of topics. The classic university uses BlackBoard as its LMS, the long tail university uses “worldware,” and in particular, Web 2.0 tools and techniques.

This point in the conversation jogged my memory about exploring TouchGraph (which makes cool web diagrams of what sites like to other sites, using Google data). The graph I tried was using the term “Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.”TouchGraph for term Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

What struck me is the lack of connection between the clusters, there are several isolated islands among what should be (seems to me) a small linked community of practice. Based on the TouchGraph, the SoTL folks are not practicing long tail education and this is a lot of what the current university and the university alumni look like — little islands not webs.

Recently I commented on the goal of the new president of Washington State University to be a “global” campus. This long tail analysis helps me further understand what it would mean to be “global.”

First, it would involve using global tools, and not Blackboard. Global tools would be both Worldware and Web 2.0 Global tools would also be tools that students would use again in the workplace in ways that are similar to the ways they were used in the university. For collaboration, global tools would look like MediaWiki, SharePoint, Drupal, etc.

Second, it would use global assessment — things like portfolios, Downes’ “Open Source Assessment” and my response.

Third, it would use global resources, both to contextualize the learning in authentic problems and as informational resources. The Web 2.0 university would understand and cultivate networks among its alumni and would be active in managing its links to make networks of expertise that its students and the world could exploit.

Cheating: an arms race between students and faculty

July 12, 2007

In Cheating on online exams I speculated that students might use any of many synchronous communication channels to cheat during a synchronously delivered online exam (I am assuming the typical multiple choice timed exams.) Then today I found It’s not plagiarism it’s an easy essay where the Custom Writing folks purport to offer essays that will not be detected by

So, there are two aspects to this cheating arms race. One is recognizing that interactions among technologies lead to new unexpected exploits, the other is the more traditional development of a better offense to overcome a better defense.

Rather than dispair, perhaps we need to turn to ideas of open source assessment where the activity and the assessment are both more authentic. The wrinkle to this thought is Custom Writing is offering to create Theses and Dissertations which ought to be more authentic tasks than the typical college essay assignment.

SLOOH: A possible way to teach Astronomy

July 10, 2007

I’ve heard various reference to remote access to scientific tools, but don’t know much about the topic. I bumped into a commercial telescope access site (SLOOH) which might be a model of the idea. (Readers with more examples, please comment.)

One of the problems that I ran into in my recommendations for a web 2.0 solution to continuing the university during a flu pandemic was courses that require special tools. I tried to think about music performance class, but didn’t try to tackle a hard science that uses equipment. SLOOH suggests the potential for an astronomy class that would have access to an observatory. Cost $99 for a year is not out of line with some textbooks. Perhaps the university should close its observatory and switch to an online tool on a permanent basis.