Building the Planet’s Center for Teaching and Learning

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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9 Responses to “Building the Planet’s Center for Teaching and Learning”

  1. Implementing a Web 2.0 Strategy « Center for Teaching, Learning, & Technology Says:

    […] 4, 2008 in Uncategorized by nilspeterson Recently I proposed an alternate way to think about our website, trying to achieve a couple of […]

  2. One small step for man » Blog Archive » Cell phone streaming/ recording Says:

    […] the advice in the manifesto I wrote a couple weeks ago, Theron has been exploring Diigo (thanks to Micheal Wesch for the […]

  3. Sharon Roy Says:

    We’re also in process of redoing our website, though our plans are heavily guided by the need to fit into a family of sites. As usual, Nils, you pose interesting ideas for us all to consider and I look forward to seeing where this conversation goes next. More on our plans to come …

  4. One small step for man » Blog Archive » Tag:me Says:

    […] Learning and Technology. This thinking also makes me extend my previous suggestion about the implementing a Web 2.0 organization website with the idea that we would collectively use a WSUCTLT when we are tagging us. Which clarifies a […]

  5. One small step for man » Blog Archive » Seeking advice in a transition Says:

    […] that other campuses are undergoing a similar transition. Awhile back I proposed creating the Planet’s CTL. Concurrent with that blog post, CTLT started a blog at WordPress, that has garnered considerable […]

  6. One small step for man » Blog Archive » Building an advocacy action community Says:

    […] is an extension to my previous thinking on creating an online community/Center for Teaching and Learning. To think more about the issue of creating online community around a problem, I’m beginning a […]

  7. nils_peterson Says:

    Google Alerts can now be configured to either email or make RSS feed. I just created one. The search has results now, the feed is empty. I’m guessing that the feed is updated once per day as the email results would be emailed once per day. This is an feature I was not clear about when this post was written.

  8. Building a learning community online « Community-based learning Says:

    […] is probably too high for the WSU community we need to reach. I previously wrote a manifesto describing how our unit should change its web strategy. That proposal also included the concept of […]

  9. I’m in the clouds « One small step for man Says:

    […] This realization, and a conversation today about how to organize our office study group (aka Design Circle) has me re-reading my previous post (a manifesto) for changing our unit’s web strategy. […]

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