Archive for July, 2008

Building the Planet’s Center for Teaching and Learning

July 24, 2008

The following is an invitation to Centers of Teaching and Learning (CTL)

Preamble
We are looking at updating our website. Again.

The last revision used Oracle tools to make a site that was readily modified by the whole staff — an attempt at content management to eliminate the webmaster. It worked to an extent. We also moved some of our content into the university wiki — an invitation to the campus to contribute to our efforts. But our staff still say they can’t find the stuff they want to help our faculty.

More recently we have been thinking about Web 2.0 strategies for learning, summarized here. This has me thinking about how our CTL could be working differently. Further, I suspect that all CTLs are working on roughly the same problems — assessing learning outcomes, accreditation, large classes, integrating the newest technology, course evaluations, advancing our own professional development, etc — AND all are understaffed for the amount of one-on-one effort required.

We recently enjoyed the help of a post-doc with expertise in survey research who made a collection of public domain survey instruments, with annotations and some bibliographic references about each. We also have our own collection of course evaluation instruments and another collection of rubrics. Each is filed in its little cubby somewhere.

One of the requests for our site redesign was have fingertip access to these surveys. And make that collection available to faculty who might wish to write their own surveys using the survey tools we support.

A large amount of the work of our CTL has no need of secrecy. As a public institution none of it can really be kept secret, but discretion is often advisable around data associated with instructors and programs. Some materials we use have licenses that restrict our posting them on the web.

Sticking with the obviously public content, how do we (all the world’s CTLs) use Web 2.0 tools and Learning 2.0 strategies to collaborate on the common problems we are addressing? I recently wrote a letter of advice to a Web 2.0 Learner. It offers some clues.

The Invitation
Join us in creating the world’s CTL. You will need to work differently and think differently, but my hypothesis is that, by changing some habits, you can learn to work more effectively.

The Strategy
1. Use Google. Someone else might be working on your problem. There are multiple ways to search using Google, including Google Alerts that will run a search and email you when it finds new results (works very well for highly targeted searches). Google’s Blog search and Alerts each produce RSS. You can also get 3rd party RSS feeds of regular Google searches.

2. Teach Google. Google learns from us. (Thanks Michael) The strategies below are all about using and storing links to teach Google.

3. Use Wikipedia. Google privileges Wikipedia highly in its search results. Find your topic there. If Wikipedia knows less than you, “Be Bold.” Not everything can be in Wikipedia, use it to point to additional key resources and communities, this teaches Google and since Wikipedia is where a novice is likely to start, it invites people to your community and resources.

4. Find your community online. Join them, use their tools. Can’t find a community, create a community space. In any case, tell Wikipedia where the community is.

5. Empty everything that does not need to be private from your file cabinet, hard drive, and file server onto the web. Put everything at URLs where it will remain stable over time. If possible, put copies where your community can edit them. Tell Google by linking to these resources.

6. Bookmark online, not in your browser. Use the bookmarking tools and tags your community uses. Post information about which tags in these systems are useful in your community spaces and Wikipedia. This helps your community and it teaches Google.

7. Blog. When you have on a problem invite the world to think about it. Report your solutions, too. Make links in your blog posts to the resources you found. Keep a blog roll of resources that you find valuable. This helps you, your community and teaches Google.

8. Comment on other blogs. Provide both feedback and guidance. Add links in your comments, these teach Google.

9. Write reviews that synthesize and link several resources or your current solution. Post this review where your community can best find it, which might be your blog, your community’s space or Wikipedia.

10. Create custom Google searches. This can focus the search experience for your faculty and community. It also teaches Google.

Possible Objections
Wikipedia can’t be trusted. If the Wikipedia pages you need are wrong or are changing, garden them.

I don’t have time for this. Make this your work, not extra work

My stuff is not good enough to be online. Get over it. If you dare share it with anyone, put it online. Refine it as you go. Keep both versions, blog about what you learned and why the new version is better. This is your learning portfolio, it helps you earn credibility in your community.

I don’t have a web server. Where I can put my stuff? Use free online resources.

Proposal for our CTL Website
This discussion started from a need to revise our unit’s website. It proposed that we collectively create a planetary CTL web resource. Given the above, what should our campus CTL site contain?

As a starting hypothesis, and to be blunt, our website should contain only the things that keep our budget from being cut.

That means the site needs an Intranet where we can securely share with select members of our campus the data and reports related to our collaborations with them.

We may also need a public repository where we can dump our files online.

The site also should provide information about the problems that our unit is working on, and who the partners are in this work, and the value this work is providing to the University — what have we done for you lately? This might be a learning history or a showcase portfolio. This information should be rich in links and other clues to find more information. Some of the links should be fed into the site as RSS from the activities above.

The site should provide one-click access when that is politically valuable, but it should not strive to be an A-Z index, rather our site should have a custom Google search, and hints about what problems that search has been optimized to address.

Our site might have public resources if they are politically valuable to us, but we don’t want turn our site into a content silo, rather the preference should be to link to resources stored elsewhere. We should strive to collaborate with other units and host resources in the most appropriate places (For example, campus-centric technology help in the campus help resource. (And we should remember to make our custom Google search look there.)) We should also collaborate with our communities and put resources on off campus sites if that gives the resources more global value.

Objections
Faculty should find the resources they need by browsing our site.
Maintaining links and resources takes time. Unless having those links is protecting our budget, we should spend time on things that are more essential. Further, we are probably better off assuming (or helping) faculty use Google than being information architects. Social bookmarking is quick and has other payoffs. Feed the results of your social bookmarking to your website. Use search.

I don’t want to put our content in places we don’t control. Wikipedia is based on the hypothesis that “we are smarter than me.” Its seems to be working.

There won’t be much left on our site. So? See the hypothesis about protecting budget and political value.

Our technical and web staff won’t have jobs. Keep your staff focused on your intranet needs.

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Advice to a Web 2.0 Learner

July 24, 2008

In If you have a problem, ask everyone (CORNELIA DEAN
NYTimes, July 22, 2008) says:

“John Davis, a chemist in Bloomington, Ill., knows about concrete. For example, he knows that if you keep concrete vibrating it won’t set up before you can use it. It will still pour like a liquid.

Now he has applied that knowledge to a seemingly unrelated problem thousands of miles away. He figured out that devices that keep concrete vibrating can be adapted to keep oil in Alaskan storage tanks from freezing.”

The idea in this article is that by gathering other perspectives, diverse ones, it is possible to solve problems that you could not solve yourself from your perspective. This is analogous to the story on 60 minutes about the inventor with a new approach to treating cancer.

Palouse Prairie School was awarded a charter to open in 2009 using the Expeditionary Learning (EL) model. Pupils will work on integrated problems (metaphorical expeditions into unknown territories to solve a real problem and perform a community service [the philosophy behind Expeditionary Learning, a trade name, has its origins in Outward Bound Expeditions]).

So where does “ask everyone” play in an EL elementary school? The pupils need to gather perspectives to work on their problems. Perspectives will enrich their learning. And enhance their problem solving.

The strategy for gathering perspective may be as simple as taking the problem home to the dinner table, “Mom, how can you help my class think about this problem?” or more sophisticated, by posting the problem on the Internet.

In the latter case, a Web 2.0 strategy is important. How can a school child hope to get help from some stranger somewhere in the world? 1. By linking to others (especially the way blogs do, called ‘trackback’), 2. by using key terms that Google will recognize, and 3. by having a ‘reputation’ to raise the rank of the student’s post in Google’s results.

Tracking back gains attention from a specific person. Its part of a process of saying ‘I read your stuff’ which is the kind of flattery that might get someone else to read you.

Reputation is earned, by being linked by others, which means, by doing or saying something worthwhile.

Tracking back takes thoughtful reading. Being linked takes saying something worthy of another’s mentioning. Both skills are, I think, desirable in a 21st century learner.

If a school had a blog, and it engaged the world thoughtfully with that blog, and friends of the school started linking to the blog posts because the ideas were worthwhile, the reputation of the blog would rise, and the potential of gaining help on a problem (ask everyone) would increase as well. (Not that you make a blog post and wait — you need to be active, finding a community that you think can help and engaging it.)

How does this work? I took the title of the NYTimes article and stuck it into Google and found that Cathy Davidson had responded to the NYTimes with a blog post on participatory learning. Having found Cathy and HASTAC blog, I had also found the term ‘participatory learning’ which has some interesting Google results but no Wikipedia entry.

Were children working on a problem, and found nothing in Wikipedia, that would be a prompt to create the page, even just a “stub page” in Wikipedia terms. A Wikipedia page serves as high ground (in a Google search sense) for the concept and from that page one hopes to find links to key resources and communities, perhaps even ones created by the students. Here are more ideas on how to think about wikis for learning.

The Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology at WSU has been thinking about how to use some of these ideas to transform University education. We are asking how to help students engage the world in authentic assessment of the student’s work. I can point to examples like 17 year-old George Hotz hacking the iPhone (for my purposes the hack is less important than the blog where he shared the blow-by-blow problem solving and got help) and Margo Tamez who, along with her Apache Nation in Texas, is taking on US homeland security over the idea of a border wall with Mexico. I think these ideas can be brought down to the level of the elementary school and challenge children to engage in authentic problems in a global context.

Setback for 21st Century Resume

July 20, 2008

I’ve been trying to make headway on understanding a 21st Century Resume, thinking that it should not be your father’s paper resume. But recently I’ve had a couple “send me your resume” requests, so here it is in all its paginated glory: Nils S Peterson CV.

I’m choosing categories for this post. Milestone is obvious for a noted setback. Reflection-in-action seems an appropriate guide to what I should be doing, but it is Assessment that caught my eye. Clearly, it is assessment that is the goal of keeping a document like a CV. In my experience reviewing job candidates, a CV is a cumbersome tool for assessment.

So, I have added a new section to my CV, at the bottom, Community Activism. My wife’s summary: you defeated WalMart, Saved the Bus, and Chartered a school. But the reflection, and I hope your assessment, is what did I learn doing those things?

I joined the NoSuperWalmart effort in December 2005 hoping to get a chance to apply my ideas about blogs to community organizing. There is a blog, but it did not become a key piece in the communication strategy. I found myself in a role of spokesperson and part of the inner leadership circle, but the communications strategies that carried the day were email, newspaper ads, and handbills.

A year later, I got a better chance to explore the nexus of online and local community organizing. The 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).

My most recent activism has revolved around gaining a charter for Palouse Prairie School in Moscow. This work has been conducted mostly offline, but its given me a chance to think about how to merge the content management of two blogs and Google Calendar into a web site. It not right yet, but its a step beyond the NoSuperWalmart effort.

What I think I’ve learned in those efforts is feeding into a series of blog posts I’m co-authoring regarding transforming the grade book. What we are arguing is that a community assesses its members (and a university education should assess students) by applying a set of broadly agreed criteria across a span of the member’s work. We are exploring the mechanisms by which the learner gathers, organizes, learns from, and demonstrates that assessment. The result will not be a CV, it will be a portfolio and the public assessment of that portfolio. Not a showcase portfolio, but a learning portfolio.

The CV is a showcase, and not even the best one, in that it is a catalog of everything without organizing narrative. What would be more interesting it seems is to showcase an accomplishment and the learning history leading up to it, as George Hotz did in his blog/portfolio on cracking the iPhone and Margo Tamez did in her portfolio on her efforts to prevent a US-Mexico border wall.

Technorati Claim

July 15, 2008

Technorati Profile

In Wikipedia they don’t care about your credentials

July 14, 2008

In Wikipedia your contribution can be respected even if you are anonymous. The Wikipedia community works because it has a set of public criteria used by the community (and debated within the community) for judging all work. For example, there is a policy around deletion of pages and procedures for implementing it.

In thinking about transforming the grade book, I am concluding that we have reduced the teaching and learning proposition to one core idea: the public presentation of evaluation criteria, the public application of the criteria to a given learner’s work, and a public means for the criteria and their application to be negotiated by a community over time.

I think this is what Stephen Downes is saying in Open Source Assessment, you don’t need a curriculum created by experts, you need this core tool, the assessment.

But, key to making this work is to directly assess what you want learners to be doing. If you use an indirect measure, like a standardized multiple choice exam, what you will get is learners who master that test but may not have the skills and knowledge that are actually desired. Patricia Cross suggests that what you measure and value is what you will get more of from learners.

And, once you have your assessment underway, you need to constantly redefine it by holding the results up against what you would like to have happening. The key is not how well students do on our exams, its how well the exams promote what we want students to do.

A Global Online Land-Grant University?

July 3, 2008

Awhile back I stumbled on Ken Udas as I was exploring some thinking that John Gardner at WSU is also doing — what is the role of a land grant university in this century. Udas asks:

My experience suggests that western textbooks carry too big a price tag. How would we localize the learning environment and content? Would the organizational model be a network or a centralized institution?

I would answer that the localization would come from choosing authentic problems and assessments local to the learner’s context. Doing so moves the design of the course away from textbooks, and towards learner-collected sets of resources. Dave Cormier’s Feedbook proposes that the course “text” would be assembled from a collection of RSS feeds. This makes the text current and social and encourages that the learner interact with the community. Engaging community is to me at the heart of the land grant mission.

FERPA and Learning 2.0

July 3, 2008

John Thomson, writing in response to Martin Weller’s ideas in SocialLearn finds Web 2.0 an awkward fit for higher education and gives among his reasons for why universities can’t/won’t change:

“FERPA has everybody scared. The purpose of the law was to protect student’s personal and grade information from things like the grade list on the door and prying parents. Yet fear over having students work on external commercial systems, which are largely secure from hacking and violate privacy only on the aggregate level of data, causes hesitation from using Web 2.0 systems or attempting to form partnerships with their owners.”

Having students do learning activities in public seems completely reasonable in theater or music where performance to audiences is part of the authentic activity. And I doubt FERPA has a problem with a school play or concert listing the names of the performers in the program even if they are also the members of a class preparing the performance. The difference for me is the authenticity. Forcing a student to blog on a class discussion or post a paper on the causes of World War II, where the activity is school work and not authentic performance is where I have a problem.

If the instructor is giving a grade for the activity, I believe that is FERPA protected, but in a public venue like those above, the audience did its own assessment (not to be confused with grading) and that too is a required part of the authenticity of the experience.

For me, the interesting implications of Learning 2.0 come in taking a transformative view of the whole learning enterprise. Recently, we have been writing on transforming the grade book. The activities we propose, especially in the second and third variations probably could not be conducted within a closed learning environment — they are authentic engagements with a community and need to be on the open Internet. I see no FERPA issue here.