Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

Passion for trees

February 14, 2014

Appearing in Moscow Pullman Daily News, editorial page, Feb 14, 2014

HIS VIEW: Pitching in as a volunteer urban forester

byline: Nils Peterson is a member of the Moscow Tree Commission, who celebrates his passion for trees by building timber frames such as the Berman Creekside Park picnic shelter.

I am passionate about trees. When I was in 4th or 5th grade my parents took us to see the wooden naval ships in Baltimore Harbor. That is my first memory of being impressed by big wood. Since then I’ve been awestruck by both individual redwoods and old growth forests.

My passion for trees increased when I discovered the Timber Framers Guild and their efforts at recovering a lost building art. I find that working with hand tools allows me to attend to idiosyncrasies of timbers, which helps me appreciate trees as individuals.

Working with wood gives me a deep appreciation for Eric Sloane’s great little book “Reverence for Wood,” and inspired a talk I gave a few years ago at the Unitarian Universalist church in Moscow. The beginning of the presentation invited the audience to engage in one of my favorite activities in the church — staring at the floor. The floor is red fir, installed 100 years ago. Its knot free straight grain suggest to me that it grew in an old growth forest and was maybe 100 years old when it was harvested — saplings at the time of Lewis and Clark. That wood connects me to ecosystems and to time.

The birch tree that stood in former Moscow resident Lynn Unger’s front yard now spans the center of my barn.  It unwittingly turned me into an urban hardwood lumberjack. I discovered the diverse beauty of the trees growing in our city. Ash, box elder, chestnut, cherry, elm, linden, locust, maple, Russian olive and walnut all found places in the barn before I finished. I made friends with some of the area arborists and became something of an ambulance chaser after local hardwood.

Harvesting urban hardwoods also connected me to some of the area’s wood turners. They often took pieces too small or knotty for me and turned them into art. You can often see examples of their art at Farmer’s Market.

Now I have a small orchard, mostly plum and apple. Pruning the young trees each spring is a meditation, a chance to see how each tree responded to last year’s cuts and to choose my next step training the tree. And then in the fall I learn if my efforts are bearing fruit. The orchard is teaching me patience in a collaboration with the life of the trees.

But perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned from my passion for trees is about community. Barn raising requires community. For me, almost two decades after raising my first timber frame, the whole activity is less about building and more about engaging, sharing, connecting. The process, and the trees, have become my teachers, helping me to be more in tune, more connected, more reverent.

Cultivating Moscow’s urban forest is also a community activity. Inevitably, I suppose, my passion for trees and they lessons they taught, brought me to the Moscow Tree Commission. Recently the DNews reported on a new project of the Commission, “Adopt-a-Tree.” (Feb. 1&2)

The idea of Adopt-a-Tree is like Adopt-a-Highway, to provide a mechanism for individuals and community service organizations to volunteer assistance to Moscow’s urban forest by providing specific services to select trees that are on City property and Rights-of-Way. The goal of the program is to extend the resources of the Parks Department staff, promote civic pride, and enhance the urban forest.

I hope this program creates a channel for community members to direct some of their own passion into enhancing our community trees.  Learn more on the City website, or come see the Commission when we have a booth at Farmers Market. And follow your passion for trees.

Common Reading & Open Learning Communities

May 28, 2009

Thanks Bill Marler for your offer to support Washington State University’s Common Reading program after it got caught in a recent controversy regarding the book Omnivore’s Dilemma. See also developing Facebook action related to the topic.

From his blog, I can tell Marler has some appreciation of Web 2.0 as a life-long collaboration and learning strategy. This whole event is an example of how having a curriculum open to community review can improve learning outcomes. Searching in Google for “WSU Common Reading” shows that the event lit up a problem-solving community with multiple perspectives but overlapping interests in this topic; a community that produced the resources to sustain a learning opportunity.

WSU’s Center for Teaching Learning and Technology has been exploring how to help students learn in, from, and with such communities with projects like the Microsoft co-funded ePortfolio Contest. A variety of lessons can be learned from that project, including thoughts on how to transform the traditional gradebook by extending the idea of grading out into the community and making it a process for collecting community feedback on student work, AND the assignments that created the work, AND the program goals that shaped the assignments. I think this represents the way WSU needs to move forward with a Global Campus concept.

THEIR VIEW: A place for new, old technologies to coexist

November 9, 2007

Reprinted from an op-ed piece published in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News:

By Gary Brown, Nils Peterson and Theron Desrosier

Monday, September 17, 2007 – Page Updated at 12:00:00 AM

It is great news that Craig Staszkow can say with confidence that there are now “traditional online offerings.” (Daily News, Aug. 27).

In less progressive quarters much concern persists about the quality of this new “tradition.” Still, we’re not so sure about his characterizations of those online courses when he describes them as “stuffed into one dimension and driven by chat rooms, threaded conversation and question-and answer sessions with an unseen teacher assistant.”

Even as we come to understand there is a new tradition, it is still fair to say that the range of designs in those “traditional online courses” varies dramatically. In fact, many thoughtfully organized and well-facilitated courses are very rich and multidimensional. Examples of this success exist in Washington State University’s Center for Distance and Professional Education courses in operations management, where students have solved real business problems saving people’s real jobs as well as saving companies millions of real dollars. And there are great examples, for instance, from WSU’s Human Development Department where, in one course, students conceptualized and wrote new state laws to empower very real citizens.

We’re also excited as are Staszkow and Dave Cillay, the director of instructional development for WSU’s Center for Distance and Professional Education, about the potential of virtual worlds. The reality of the virtual is amazing. Research continues to confirm the viability of virtual reality, culminating in a recent study published in the journal Science. The findings challenge the “axiom that everything you are is anchored in your body,” says Vilayanur Ramachandran, the director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego. He adds, “What you regard as you is really a transient construct created by the brain from multiple sensory sources.”

Information processing research has been pointing to this phenomenon for some time, finding again and again that our perceptions of simulations conjure up the same physiological responses – heart rate, skin conductivity, brain waves – as do “real experiences.”

So the question gains urgency, why use new technologies to create pseudonymous avatars and virtual worlds when the real world is rich with challenges?

There are good answers, of course, and Staszkow mentions virtual travel to Minnesota to inspect the bridge and build new virtual bridges as one example. Great, but why stop there? How do we decide when to use virtual technologies to create new virtual worlds versus using virtual technologies to augment the world where we sit and ponder this question? Rather than make believe, why not use technologies that allow us to inspect the pictures and microscopic details of the collapsed bridge site and engage the reports and even the engineers who really have inspected the site? For examples of this use of the Internet to engage professionals, check out Brett Atwood’s WSU School of Communication’s students’ blogs and you will “see” where real professionals engaged WSU students and enriched their discussions about a real and complex copyright case.

Recently in the news, George Hotz hacked the Apple iPhone, unlocking it from the restriction that it only be used on the AT&T cellular service. While not condoning hacking, we note his blog provides a view into his collaborative learning process. Hotz understood the power of the real-world Internet, and elected to work the problem in public where he solicited and got feedback critical to his success. He collaborated with people from around the globe as each worked on different aspects of the problem.

John Gardner, the new WSU vice president for extension and economic development, also is blogging. He is exploring this global competency and establishing a vehicle to support his professional learning, inviting feedback on his ideas and directions for WSU. His blog is beginning to gather comments from a global community, a vast, multidimensional resource available to him now. Even as we wait for similar sorts of communities to gather in Second Life, they are flourishing in ways that augment the “traditional” Internet that is shaping and reshaping where we live, work, and learn.

New technologies don’t supplant old ones – note the pad and pencil by your phone. The trick is bringing them together in proper measure.

Gary Brown is director of WSU’s Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology. Nils Peterson is the center’s assistant director, and Theron Desrosier is a design consultant for the center.

Daily News — moving toward Web 2.0

September 15, 2007

In today’s 9/15-16 paper Steve McClure has a piece asking for thoughts about online commenting (which has been in place at the DNews for awhile now). This seems to be part of the slow flirtation the DNews is having with becoming a Web 2.0 player (perhaps learning from the New York Times).The DNews now sports a discrete link “RSS” that goes to a page of RSS feeds. They render in Firefox and Safari, but when you try to follow the “more…” link, you need to log in. Which is probably why they don’t work in the Sage plugin to Firefox.

So in reply to Steve’s commentary (you’ll need to log in):

  1. Make the local content public, remove those logins.
  2. I agree with Mark Solomon, require an identity to comment, one identity/user
  3. Allow trackback from blogs as an alternative way to comment.
  4. Link to stuff in your online editions, and implement ping/trackback so when you link to other blogs, your pieces appear as comments there.

As you pursue this exploration, keep in contact with your News counterparts at WSU who interested in creating “Global WSU” and are beginning to look into “Global Internet Competencies,” like blogging by top administrators as vehicles to keep administration connected to employees and other constituents.

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.

Whither education in the 21st century?

December 20, 2006

I am going to forego the Morning Reading Group meeting this morning in the interest of finishing some end of term course evaluation work.

If the merit of last session’s reading were to know a common perspective of faculty, then the merit of this week (Moore, Bill Guilty Bystanders WA State Board for Community & Technical Colleges December 2006 (A reprint from June 1998)) is as an antidote to that . Among the quotes I highlighted in that article was this:

…creating a real community—one in which people genuinely depend on each other for enhancing the quality of learning—out of an artificial context requires letting go of some power and control within the classroom…

And I note how that resonates with some of Chuck Pezeshki’s comments in an OpEd piece in yesterday’s Daily News, where he says:

* Students must be allowed some choices on how they spend their time in the classroom. When confronted with no control over their lives, they become submissive and passive thinkers.

Chuck’s whole item below.

HIS VIEW: Whither education in the 21st century?

By Chuck Pezeshki

Tuesday, December 19, 2006 – Page Updated at 10:07:20 AM

It’s all over the news again, like it has been for the past 20 years. This week, it’s on the front of Time magazine. Whither education? And what’s happening to our kids?

It’s exciting to see Moscow residents have been active in the debate themselves. The conference on Nov. 27 regarding vocational education is an important first step in any dialogue the community has in coming up with solutions that affect the future of our young people.

I am a mechanical engineering professor, and have been involved in solutions for progressive education my whole career. I run a design clinic, where senior college students complete real work for sponsor companies that pay thousands of dollars for that work. I’ve directed the clinic for 13 years. Many of my students are hired from my class by the sponsor companies. Students work in teams of four to six, and while I have high standards, I do not grade, other than an “A” or an incomplete. As in the Real World, students must complete real work, defined by a specification that is agreed upon by the company, and benchmarked at the end for performance. I have close to 100 percent delivery rate, with a product that conforms to the specification, and a 70 percent adoption rate. When students leave my class, they are truly “ready to work.”

You might think that either a) I’m lying, or b) I use such advanced technology that students by default produce good work. Neither is true. But I have secrets.

* If you want students to learn, you must believe that they can learn. Judging anyone constantly is not the recipe for anyone’s personal success.

* Students must be allowed some choices on how they spend their time in the classroom. When confronted with no control over their lives, they become submissive and passive thinkers.

* Plenty of hard questions, but no trick questions. Too much of education has been involved with fooling the students. No one likes to be made a fool — a recipe for disaster.

* A classroom must be a safe place, where students can explore, and not fear humiliation. The moment that any person is scared, they are operating out of the same part of the brain we have in common with a hamster — and it’s not the thinking part.

* Teachers must have some discretionary funding, to try new things, and some respect for their discretion as they experiment. Without this, we cannot move forward. I recently sat down with my son’s third-grade teacher. She is engaged, obviously very bright, and still young enough to not be cynical. Because of the WASL, every day she has is scripted by someone else. The same things that disempower students disempower our educators.

* We have to recognize that we are a society in transition from a more verbal/symbol-based literacy to a visual literacy. As I wrap up my class today, I’ll talk to some corporate sponsors on the phone. I’ll use the Internet to deliver an electronic portfolio of student work to another corporation, consisting of animations, video, a PowerPoint presentation, design drawings and a standard report. After that, I’m meeting a group of students to make our own production video of their final, constructed project. Needless to say, this is very different than turning in a standard, typewritten report to end the semester.

* Instead of the notion of rewarding individual students with the status of gifted, we must recognize that all students can be educated. We have to reward teamwork, instead of the current notion of winners and losers. In order to do this, teachers must move to a paradigm of classroom performance ownership. This means, especially in later grades where developmental issues are not such a large factor, we should be shooting for all students to learn the material presented equally — and then give individuals opportunities to express their own creativity in guided ways. Teachers must be accountable as well as students.

* We must recognize the tools students need to use today — from home-produced video, to computer-aided design, to video games — are different from the ones we learned. And while we as parents must be engaged, there are going to be topics we are not familiar with. Support for teachers now is critical in assuring that they have the educational background.

Finally, we have to love our children. Too often, I hear young people being blamed for the world’s problems. Young people haven’t had a chance to mess up the world yet. And blame gets us nowhere. Let’s keep the dialogue going, and get to work.

Chuck Pezeshki is a professor in mechanical and materials engineering at Washington State University, and chairman of the WSU Faculty Senate.

On 12/18/06 5:10 PM, “Ater-Kranov, Ashley” wrote:

Hi Folks,

Please visit the MRG wiki page to access the Moore article proposed by Gary Brown.  I’ve included the link and rationale here as well.
Moore, Bill Guilty Bystanders WA State Board for Community & Technical Colleges December 2006 (A reprint from June 1998)
Moore, who coordinates the Washington State Assessment Conference, spouse of a former HEC Board member, National Learning Community Fellow, great softball player and a good guy expresses the need for a new impatience with educators who fail to participate in assessment. As we head into a new push toward accreditation, this article may be useful for sharing with chairs and others even as it re-energizes our commitment to assessment and transformation.
See you Wednesday morning!


From: Ater-Kranov, Ashley
Sent: Friday, December 15, 2006 3:24 PM
To: CTLT.Designers; Johnson-Shull, Lisa Ann; Jorgensen, Randy; Peterson, Nils; Weathermon, Karen Lynn
Subject: RE: a call for MRG reading material for 12/20

Hi MRG participants,

I’ve had one suggestion for MRG reading material so far for Wednesday’s session (12/20) – please send me as well as post your suggestion with the rationale behind the choice on the MRG wiki page by Monday afternoon, so we can get the selection decided upon in time to read it.


Ashley Ater Kranov
Assistant Director
Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology
Washington State University
Smith CUE 503N
(509) 335-6212

Outcome of Beebe Rezone — Mayor can’t decide

September 19, 2006

CORRECTION, see this retraction.

Original post follows:

I don’t know how Omie is going to cover it, but the events reminded me of the childhood song…

The noble Duke of York, he had 10,000 men.
He marched them up the hill,
he marched then down again…
First they voted it up,
and then they voted it down,
and then they voted half-way up,
which was neither up nor down.

To make matters worse, they repeated the first verse again, moving to pass the rezone, moving to pass the rezone with ‘parking mitigation’ (would that run with the land, if so how??), moving to deny the rezone, moving to table the whole mess for 6 months. Each vote was 3-3 and each time Mayor Chaney sided with the side that would keep any decision from getting made.

The issues seemed to be providing parking and readings of the Comp Plan vs readings of the Zoning code. The Comp Plan says one thing about new CBD and parking, the strict constructionists say the zone is what the zone is (I’m in their camp).

So, approve the rezone with no parking would fail because some wanted parking stipulated.

Add a mitigation plan for parking would fail with those who had problems changing the zone with extra requirements.
Denying the whole thing failed, because “My God” (quote Pall) this is something we want.

Ament wanted to put the whole project on the shelf and couldn’t get a second.

So after at least 6 votes, maybe more the decision was tabled for 2 weeks (first Monday in October) Nobody can talk to anybody.

I can say this, there was good speaking from the audience: Bob and Betsy, a letter from Bruce Livingston, Tom Bode, Kit Crane and BJ. They all made it a thorny issue with multiple facets.

While it got mentioned, no one on Council really said how they think about NSA being required to provide parking in its CUP and this rezone being (or not) similarly required. I think the difference is the CUP was allowing something exceptional in a zone, this is expanding the zone.

My take. Nancy needs to express an opinion, she was given all three choices (yes, no, maybe) at least twice.

Reasons to support the Beebe Rezone

September 19, 2006

This issue is before the Moscow City Council, it involves the rezone of 2+ acres in two parcels in south downtown Moscow, from Industrial to Central Business District (CBD). The parcels each are occupied by a white concrete (mostly) grain elevator. The railroad has pulled out and the elevators are not in use. One is adjacent to the city Hospital.

My comments 9/18/06

Educators talk about the 3Rs. I want to address the 3Ps tonight

Process. I support this project because of what I hope for on the site — the preservation of a grain elevator. It has been pointed out to me that the elevator’s fate is not the agenda item tonight, the zoning is all that is on the table. Its been suggested that the zoning be bundled with other decisions, in this case a PUD, so we had a better guarantee of what would happen. I am torn by this argument, but finally come to this analysis. A building or a use has a shorter life span than a zoning designation. I conclude the process should be unbundled because the question is — should the CBD grow and in this area?

Parking. There may be some who speak against this proposal because it would expand CBD and bring in more lots with no requirements for on-site parking. The choice seems to be between an urban style or in suburban style downtown. I come out on the side of CBD, denser, more walkable, and I think, better aligned with the concepts espoused on the Idaho Smart Growth website. Like buildings or uses, parking is a issue with a shorter life cycle than a zoning decision. I conclude the question is — should the CBD be expanded in a urban style, or has the time past for that style of urban development?

Planning. I hope that the Council is able to act on the advice of New Cities to revise the city Planning documents. As the railroad pulls out of Moscow, among other changes, it makes the urgency of planning clear. Tonight you can send a signal of the direction you want for that new plan. I conclude that the question tonight is —  should the city should grow inward and upward or should it take its growth elsewhere?

A final thought. During the P&Z process it was suggested that the parcels be designated CBD, but with special parking requirements. Jerry Schutz will tell you I spoke ad nauseum  on the problem of parking as a commons. Tonight I’ll just say I think that is a poor idea.  If, and when, the CBD as a collective addresses its parking issues, having some members in different status will make the process more complex. Better that all CBD sites be on an equal footing.

mySite status – first use for class notes

August 28, 2006

There are two reports of student created mySite for class notes (Each site below requires WSU Network ID to login):

Brandon Crane (Home – MSE 401 fall 06) started using OneNote (and its audio recording) to take notes in his class. He is exploring making the site visible to students in the class (and more widely as an example).

Mark Zocher (Home – MgtOp215) is hoping to use discussions to share class notes and other discussion.
The mySite creation numbers continue to rise

8/21 642
8/22 804
8/23 894
8/24 1042
8/25 1143
8/26 1261
8/27 1282
8/28 1312
For the first 1008 users in the system, here are the demographics:

By employment status

Classified 20
Exempt 42
Faculty 21
Graduate 60
Hourly Staff 84
Undergraduate 174
Undefined 607

By class standing

Freshman 250
Sophomore 160
Junior 211
Senior 219
Graduate Student 98
Other 70

Several users have started to create portfolios, but only my demonstration timber frame portfolio appears to have any content.

A new day for RSS at WSU

July 31, 2006

I started thinking about RSS and XML formats in general back in 2002. I hoped to get the campus to adopt the format for slicing and dicing feeds of content and make small “N” news better distributed. For example, I watched the various seminar announcements in WSU Announcements and imagine that if there were an RSS of them, seperate from all the other stuff, and if all the molecular bio ones were together, regardless of college, they would be more effective in getting the work out to the narrow audience who is interested.

Now, with the upcoming launch of the WSU mySites, and the ability for users to make personal pages and place XML renderers on those pages, the potential for RSS grows– it has become more of a roll-your-own reader environment, with the reader technology (which has been readily available to the cognoscenti for years) now imbedded in a University platform.

The work to do remains selling people on making their news in RSS formats, segregated into finely divided streams. Blogging does this well for individuals. I’ve previously speculated on the tools to aggregate and display these feeds. It seems time to re-analyze this space and devise a new effort to promote RSS as a vehicle to networking.