Archive for August, 2007

Open Source Assessment and iPhone Hacking

August 31, 2007

In Half an Hour: Open Source Assessment Stephen Downes wrote:

What we can expect in an open system of assessment is that achievement will be in some way ‘recognized’ by a community. This removes assessment from the hands of ‘experts’ who continue to ‘measure’ achievement. And it places assessment into the hands of the wider community. Individuals will be accorded credentials as they are recognized, by the community, to deserve them.

We have been talking quite a bit the last few days about George Hotz and his iPhone blog.

The important piece in our conversations is that its easy to ‘recognize’ Hotz’ achievement (and a wide community has), and in the way he structured his blog, its easy to ‘recognize’ that he is a thoughtful and collaborative worker, these last two skills being important traits for employers, and his portfolio an interesting example of how students might demonstrate these global competencies in authentic project-based learning.

Worldware ePortfolios as tools for educational entrepreneurs

August 21, 2007

Recently John Gardner posted some thoughts on Entre/Intrapreneurs, and what roles especially they play in a university. This sent me to looking for the blog of Clayton Christensen author of Innovator’s Dilemma. What I found was not specifically Christensen’s blog, but an interesting group blog from his consulting organization. I added that to my blog roll because I’ve found ideas in the book shape my thinking about trends around me at Washington State University.

For example, I’ve been thinking about Innovator’s Dilemma in the context of BlackBoard Course Management System and alternatives that may exist to that (increasingly expensive) tool. Alex Slawsby’s post gives me some further insights in applying the ideas of “interdependency” and “modularity” that I think play well with my own Web 2.0 and ePortfolio thinking.

BlackBoard is an “interdependent” system (if I understand Slawsby), with many tightly linked modules. This produces an internally efficient product, but at a cost to the customer. We (WSU) the customer are looking for alternatives that are “good enough” and at lower price points. SharePoint 2007 looks to meet that goal. It also is an interdependent system, but less specialized, it is a collaboration tool used in many business settings. As a course management system, it does not have all the features of BlackBoard, but many faculty don’t use most of the features, so SharePoint may be “good enough.” And for the University, which can amortize the cost of SharePoint over many other collaborative uses, it might be at a lower price point as well. Ehrmann calls tools like SharePoint, developed for other markets and applied to education, Worldware, and argues that they deserve special consideration for being both valuable and viable.

In a previous post, Slawsby discussed a potentially more disruptive, and more modular approach than even SharePoint to challenge BlackBoard’s CMS — online services offering free storage or other free resources (eg Google Docs). These ideas begin to beg the question, what part of the instructional IT should be outsourced completely?

I would have previously said that the University can’t outsource its instructional applications, because the University needs to manage the identity (the login ID) of its students — because it has scores and grades tied to those student identities. I would have said, “You can’t have a student just using Blogger, how would you know who they were or that the work was authentically theirs?”

Enter the student, who is increasingly “swirling” (taking courses from two or more educational institutions concurrently). The student is treating the university programs as modules (Slawsby’s term), mixing and matching courses to make independently concocted programs. The student may use one institution as a home base, bringing in credits toward a degree, or may be jumping around, ultimately looking for someone to credential the melange.

I recently wrote about an electronic portfolio as the core learning platform. In that thinking, the portfolio serves as the place to present to a specific audience the collection of learning experiences and the value and meaning that come from those experiences. Those experiences are probably not test scores or even a transcript, but more authentic products of learning, work, and avocational activities. Such a portfolio should not be a broadcast, but more like a blog, be open to comment, a place for the learner to present her current state of thinking and seek input to evolve understanding.

Which brings me back to my interest in Dr. Gardner’s post on Entre/Intrapeneurship in the University. He says, “It [entre/ intrapreneurship] must be embedded in our WSU culture and our curriculum.” Given that swirling students are already acting like educational entrepreneurs, and Google continues to move in directions that allow those students the potential outsourcing of elements of our instructional IT, I think the time for Dr Gardner’s conversation has already arrived.

ePortfolio as the core learning application

August 17, 2007

Much of this thinking springs from Stephen Downes’ review article, eLearning 2.0. Experiments like ELGG and Dave Cormier’s FeedBook have implemented some of these ideas and added to our (Center for Teaching Learning and Technology at WSU) thinking.

Portfolio thinking/working includes these elements

  • Collect your work
  • Select from your work important examples, annotate what is important (add metadata)
  • Reflect on your work, are you meeting your goals, how do you know
  • Connect your work to that of others (may provide context, support, evidence of success)
  • Project your work into the community to solve problems (provides context and authentic evaluation)

Following these ideas springs our conviction that platform and tools for creating ePortfolios should be Worldware, rather than custom tools purpose built for education.

Bloggers have foreshadowed our ideas about electronic portfolios, where they are collecting their original writings and synthesizing/ reflecting about their readings.

In thinking about Pandemic Flu planning , we have looked at the multiple points of failure and proposed a loosely coupled teach-in, based on an ad-hoc set of tools.

Our 2007 ePortfolio Contest challenged contestants to document their learning growth — we wanted to explore how to gain insight into the learning that is often masked in a ‘showcase’ portfolio.

The more sophisticated blogger uses a blog roll to provide context about what influences them. And that blogger understands they are a “central node” (Resnick) of a (self-assembled) learning community — and the blogger/learner seeks critical input from others via comment and trackback. The blogger is engaged in dialog for the purpose of learning within a community of practice.

We understand the well developed blog to be a portfolio, but find its chronological structure can limit its utility to a would-be portfolio reader. Well developed “review” posts, that link to other posts (supporting evidence) in the blog can serve this synthetic, and demonstrative, role.

Using a portfolio platform allows the blog to continue in the mode where it is strongest, Collection and Reflection, while the portfolio provides a place to make a presentation to a specific audience for a specific purpose. Ideally the portfolio has its own file storage and Authentication/ Authorization structures to supplement the other systems from which it is aggregating.

In our thinking a portfolio (see Pandemic Flu), is a hub that can aggregate (but may not need to contain) artifacts (it might be important to bring the artifacts into the portfolio if issues of AuthZ might keep the portfolio reader from seeing the artifact, or if the artifacts are in locations where they are subject to destruction (an example of the latter might be a page in Wikipedia). Typically, the artifacts lie in native environments most suitable to them (Flickr, Blogger,, etc) and are arranged into the portfolio by tagging and a syndication mechanism (such as RSS).

The piece we are adding with our 2007-08 portfolio contest is the idea to engage with a community (local, national, international) on a problem and its solution. This requires the learner to learn in a multi-disciplinary way in an authentic context.

The portfolio, in this application, likely becomes a “collaba-folio” where the author is collaborating with a community in the work and documenting learning growth. It is not a showcase portfolio of a finished work. In fact, following BioQUEST, we think that authentic learning work is seldom “finished,” rather it is abandoned in favor of new, more important learning pursuits.

The teacher in this model is taking actions symmetric to the learner. The teacher is a more sophisticated learner, providing feedback to novices within a web of teaching-learning relationships. The teacher also understands that, through past reputation, he may have social capital to extend to a learner, and that extension can be done publicly via the teacher’s blog roll or by a blog post that synthesizes some aspect of the work of the learner with other members of the community (who may then provide the learner with feedback or resources). The teacher should be conscious in using social capital, and perhaps earned credentials, to advance the thinking of more novice learners into the communities of practice.

Global Cultural Competencies Include Internet Culture

August 16, 2007

On Aug 15, the Pullman-Moscow Daily News ran the editorial below referring to WSU’s John Gardner and aligning WSU priorities with the economic goals of the state. Without citing it, they seemed to be generally responding to his blog post Universities and Economic Development.

Its nice that the local paper has decided to enter the conversation with the Vice President about university priorities, but given the goal of WSU’s President Floyd for increased Global Cultural Competencies, I think a little conversation about Internet Culture is in order.

Dr Gardner has begun to explore the role of blogging in the leadership of a major university. His blog has RSS and is open for comments (create an free account) and trackback, all signs of understanding Blogging Culture. The Daily News went online several years ago, but unlike global citizen The New York Times, the Daily News keeps it content, including its editorials, behind a login available only to paying subscribers. Comments are allowed (by subscribers), but there is no trackback or RSS. And unlike Dr. Gardner, the Daily News does not include links in its online content. Dr. Gardner is exploring what it means to be a node in an online conversation; the Daily News is acting like a broadcaster with proprietary content, a cultural faux paux in a read-write Web 2.0 world. (see Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis, We Media, (PDF) pg 57)

What I’d like to see on Dr. Gardner’s blog, a next step in acculturation, would be context, in the form of a blog roll. Who is he reading? Who provides the context from which his thinking springs. This is different from linking from within a post, where we see Dr Gardner’s synthetic thinking. I should blog roll better in my own blog, but, for example I point to Stephen Downes as a thinker I read on topics related to Web 2.0 and eLearning.

Reproduced for the benefit of furthering the conversation, the editorial appearing in Daily News 8/15/07 (login required)

OUR VIEW: WSU right to align its goals with those of state

BY Steve McClure, for the editorial board

Wednesday, August 15, 2007 – Page Updated at 12:00:00 AM

Nimble usually isn’t a word associated with universities. The procedures that drive institutions of higher education largely dictate that new initiatives and massive changes in direction take a little bit of time.

That will be one of the challenges confronting Washington State University’s new vice president for economic development.

John Gardner arrives from the University of Missouri with the task of aligning the university’s priorities with the economic goals of the state.

That’s a noble goal, and one universities in general should be mindful of.

Universities are a major component of economic development and economic success. In addition to providing a well-rounded education in the liberal arts, college graduates will be entering the work force at some point. Most graduate with the expectation that the skills they picked up in college will provide them with a leg up when it comes to employment.

At the same time, private businesses that support higher education through tax dollars should be able to expect the state’s universities to provide an educated work force. That hope is amplified by the need for a workforce educated in the skills employers are looking for.

If Washington needs nurses – and it does – that should be a skill available at colleges and universities. If economic forecasters are predicting a huge need for computer software engineers in the next five years, universities should be flexible enough to provide a pretty good chunk of home-grown talent.

Washington State doesn’t need to get into the business of providing a degree that only works at one company, but it should be dynamic enough that it can look into its crystal ball and anticipate the careers of tomorrow – and the skills students will be looking for when they complete their degrees.

Gardner already recognizes the initial challenge. His next hurdle will be implementing the changes within the university. We wish him luck.

Open Assessment and Mrs. Kohler’s Spelling Lesson

August 7, 2007

It was ironic that I was at Technorati searching for “Open Assessment” when I stumbled on

Mrs. Kohler’s Lesson Plan

August 3, 2007

Standards: 7C1.3

Objectives: Studnets will take Spelling Lesson #1 test. Students will work on their Vocabulary Squares for Duffy’s Jacket. Students will learn how to create their Weekly Grading Sheet Packet.


Anticapatory Set: The teacher will explain that the studnets are taking their Spelling Test #1 for Compound Words. She will remind them that some words are closed, and some are open.


Studnets will take the Spelling test, then trade and Grade.

Now, I also make the typo of “studnets” for “students,” but finding Mrs Kohler has me thinking about how I’d want children to go about the task of learning about spelling.

For the record, I care about spelling correctness, but I have a distaste for Mrs Kohler’s method. (perhaps because it didn’t work for me 45 years ago). So, how would I think about “attending to” spelling? – which I think is a question that goes beyond spelling mechanics.

A colleague on the bus I ride, who teaches in the College of Education, was relating a story about his daughter, a first grader, who comes home with perfect scores on her in-class spelling quizzes. She also loves to write and draw and makes greeting cards for family and friends — on which her spelling is poor. He wryly notes that she does not carry her skill from the classroom to the real context. Now– does this mean that he understands that Mrs Kohler’s work is perhaps in vain, students will learn to spell in authentic contexts by the feedback they get in those contexts, and that students may learn to do school spelling for school tests, but that is a different (and perhaps irrelevant) additional skill. If so, how sad for the efforts of Mrs Kohler and the system of No Child Left Behind where she is trapped.

I think the real issue here is not Mrs Kohler’s typos but schoolbook approaches to teaching spelling. The issue is teaching children to be effective communicators and how to work with their mistakes in the process of being communicators. A few typos didn’t deter my understanding of Mrs Kohler. Children should know the same is true. What they really need to understand is when bad spelling and grammar will impede their communication goals. The other thing they need to understand is how to attend to those errors so that the effect is the one they desire. It may not be by becoming good spellers, it may be by learning to use tools as aides. For example, I make both typos and spelling errors, but I use Firefox as my browser to help me avoid publishing them. The unfortunate thing is that children compose with crayons, a very inflexible medium unfriendly to correcting mistakes and they are reminded by their schooling that making mistakes is bad.

I came back to edit this after I found Vivian Cook’s piece The Liter Cide 2 Spelling where she explores some of these ideas in a humorous way to make some of my points above.

Assessment meets WorldWare

August 6, 2007

Mike Caulfield writes a nice reality check on vendor ePortfolio packages:

So enough of letting assessment vendors tell us what facilities we will be forced to use in their walled garden, and expecting us to be excited about it. Enough with assessment vendors selling us “environments”. What we should be doing is describing the the environment that might exist – students using WordPress, Blogger, S3, GDrive, email, messaging, etc. And then we should ask if they have a tool that can evaluate that. How will their tool interface with the learning environment we’ve constructed?

Put it up against The Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies Top 100 list of tools favored by e-learning professionals. Looks like a list of Worldware to me, which is as it should be.

I’ve been thinking that my blog is an ePortfolio (I collect, select, reflect and project in this space). My categories filter for different audiences. But this is also a working space, I’m not always good at telling a single story to one audience, so I can see a case for a more formal presentation. But ideally, such a presentation would be built with open tools, and using the identity I chose, not a drop-box closed tool branded with the identity of an institution.

As for what I’d want to put into my portfolio, it would look more like the products and activities that Stephen Downes suggests in Open Source Assessment than a resume or the product of a typical university course.

Intro to Open Education Class

August 6, 2007

David Wiley posts an invitation to join and/or help refine his course offering for Fall: Intro to Open Education, and it was with interest that I went to look. What I found did not match my expectations from the title.

Recently, Stephen Downes posted on Open Source Assessment, and I was imagining Downes’ thinking being applied in Wiley’s course:

The conversation comes up in the context of open educational resources (OERs). When posed the question in Winnipeg regarding what I thought the ideal open online course would look like, my eventual response was that it would not look like a course at all, just the assessment.

The reasoning was this: were students given the opportunity to attempt the assessment, without the requirement that they sit through lectures or otherwise proprietary forms of learning, then they would create their own learning resources.

Applying this notion to the course, I would expect that there would be a handful of introductory readings, to get the group rolling, and that the next task would be left to the students: find readings that contribute to this course, post them in the class wiki, justify why they are meritorious readings and explain how they contribute to your understanding.

The assessment would not be based on David’s judgment, but on some criteria more openly agreed and widely valuable to the group.

And rather than a read and respond course design, the course would challenge students to set a problem for themselves, perhaps form teams, and develop a solution to be argued to the community. In the John Seeley Brown notion of repair technicians always having their radios on and thereby becoming a community of practice, the course could be a hub for a community, where students would bring their resources and observations as they worked on their chosen problems. The course could be scaffolded with some open activities (e.g., interview a member of the community who has expertise in your problem but who’s perspective differs from yours.) Given that the students are blogging, they could be tasked to take their problem (definition, solution, etc) to the community(ies) that is addresses and seek feedback from those sources.

The student product from this work would not be a set of blog posts responding to Wiley’s weekly reading prompts, but a portfolio including evidence of resources, alternative perspectives examined, and solutions developed around a problem authentic to the student’s own situation.