Archive for the ‘Flu’ Category

H1N1 Flu Pandemic Preparations at Washington State University

September 10, 2009

Two years ago Washington State University was doing pandemic flu planning for the Avian Flu. The University was considering if it could respond to a closure mandated by the Governor by moving online. I wrote this piece looking at the potential single points of failure of the university’s technology and how Web 2.0 strategies might prove more versatile.

Now we are watching a rapid rise in H1N1 cases, which fortunately are mild, but it points to the issue that it would be hard to know when to devote the necessary resources to moving all courses online (if it were possible using traditional models) and that the time available to make the decision to move might be very short.

I would now amend those posts from 2007 with this information from Adam Green about AlertRank. Applying the techniques he suggests for tracking Swine Flu with Google Alerts and Twitter to the university classes would further extend and simplify the management of student groups during a Flu Pandemic Diaspora.

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.

Cheating on online exams (a speculation)

June 8, 2007

In Open Source Assessment I wrote a reply to Stephen Downes’ ideas about open source assessment and open source course design. One of the advantages of the thread he started is the assessment ideas are relatively “cheat proof.” I was reminded of this issue because of an incident we have been investigating from the close of the last semester – during Finals week our WebCT server suffered a crash and in the logs were many connections to the chat port. I speculated (now refuted) that students where chatting concurrent with working on their exam. (Turns out that the chat port is also used by an innocent “who’s online” function.)

But the speculation stands:

  • Facebook offers twelve 3rd party applications under the “Chat” heading including “WalkieTalkie gives each Facebook group a dedicated voice channel. Just push and talk.”
  • Facebook facilitates students making groups associated with their class.
  • And students are online concurrently during a high-stakes online exam.

Now, maybe using Facebook to cheat with your classmates is too brazen, and so students opt to exchange IM names and to message one-on-one, but they are online concurrently during an exam, and often at unproctored locations, so the potential must have been recognized by at least some students.

Open Source Assessment

June 8, 2007

In Half an Hour: Open Source Assessment, Stephen Downes commented on what “…the ideal open online course would look like. …[his] eventual response was that it would not look like a course at all, just the assessment.” And he goes on to talk about that assessment in authentic assessment terms.
His reasoning was: “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.”

This ties into two threads of conversation I’m having with Theron. The first is how the university could use Web 2.0 ideas to respond to a Governor’s order to close during a flu pandemic, I wrote an emergency packet for this event. (Theron noted that the skills in my packet are the skills we’d want students to have when they leave the university, so we jokingly re-purposed the packet “Open in case of graduation…”)

The second thread is the project we are kicking off for the our ePortfolio competition. (As the links might change, here are three pointers into the work: the 2006-07 contest and the portfolio of its results and the 2007-08 pre-announcement.) The 2006-07 contest asked students to make a portfolio to document some aspect of their learning, and we got some very interesting (and diverse) results. The idea of the 2007-08 contest is that students are to find a problem facing WSU or their community and develop a solution to that problem, then document their learning in a portfolio.

To help prompt students to join the contest, we are collecting short summaries of students at WSU who have already done similar work in the context of classes. In a distance degree course, Decision Science 470, students were challenged to find a problem within their workplace, form teams around the problem and solve it. (Students saved a dairy plant from closing, found new ways to manage inventory, and improved performance of call centers.) In Human Development 410, distance students were challenged to find an problem in their community that mattered to them and learn about the policy and political aspects of the problem in order to understand and become an “engaged citizen” around the issue.

What is missing in Stephen Dowens analysis above, that we had in the courses, is an idea of how to leverage the group of learners to enhance their learning. In the John Seeley Brown notion of repair technicians always having their radios on and thereby becoming a community of practice, the course can be a hub for a community of practice. The designs for the courses above were a set of prompts that scaffolded some open activities (e.g., interview a member of the community who has expertise in your problem but who’s perspective differs from yours, ask how they organize to advance their political goal.). Students share their work on the activities (we used threaded discussion, but Web 2.0 solutions might have advantages), and feedback among peers is encouraged and structured with a rubric. As Stephen suggests, the final assessment is open and the evidence for the assessment is some form of synthetic response (aka portfolio or essay) to the course’s overarching question.

This design does not depend on a central role of the instructor, in fact, we have a growing body of evidence that students can use a rubric to provide peer evaluations that agree very well with faculty assessment (agree as well as faculty agree among themselves). In the case of pandemic, this means that the course could proceed and succeed in the absence of the instructor.

So, given Stephen’s open assessment model, what is the role of the university? I think its role is to make occasions for learners to form communities of practice and networks among themselves as a collection of experts. It might credential, based on these open assessments, but its graduates would have portfolios of authentic work that would be open to evaluation by employers and others outside. Further, because the graduates would be members of communities of practice, they would have reputation that would help third parties assess their knowledge and skills. Web 2.0 thinking lets us have conversations about how such a university might be decentralized, either in time of crisis, or to serve a distributed community.

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.

Pandemic Flu and the Web 2.0 University

April 18, 2007

Washington State University is going through an exercise to plan for a pandemic and the dispersion of faculty and students without canceling classes or closing the university (we don’t want to refund tuition). The thinking is along the lines of moving all the current face-to-face courses into WebCT and continue online. Presently there are 3500 group instruction course sections/semester (not counting thesis and other individualized directed study classes) and currently ~1000 are being offered or supplemented in WebCT. The question is, how would the university add by ~2500 sections in the run-up to a pandemic outbreak?

If we start the scale up now, moving all sections online, we could develop a deliberate process and given time, move each course, including providing the training, etc. needed. Ideally, we would include course design work in the process with the goal of improving the learning outcomes of the courses while we were at it.
If we wait until the next flu season and an immenent declaration of an emergency, there does not seem to be any way to expect that we could scale up the hardware or the faculty training, especially given that some of the key people might become sick themselves.

So assume the university could decide to, and successfully go down the deliberate scale-up path. We need to consider that WebCT and the WSU campus network are potential single points of failure. Individual students or faculty might also experience single points of failure with their ISPs. Using a traditional model of an online course: readings, PowerPoint, video/audio streaming, and quizzes, etc., we probably need to conclude that because of the multiple single points of failure many students will not be able to complete their course work during the diaspora.

Is there another model of a collaborative, adaptive group that:

  • has a clear goal and can recognize (self- & peer-critique) progress toward the goal,
  • uses multiple redundant communications channels and has ways of changing communication channels to meet changing circumstances,
  • can continue to function with breakdowns in its command structure, or without one,
  • where individuals can continue to function when the group is out of communications, and
  • can recognize members of the group by some sign without a central authority providing introductions?

Does this sound like a Smart Mob? Or a terrorist cell? Or a military unit? What can we learn from those organizations and how would it apply to designing a university that would function during a pandemic?

Pandemic as teach-in

Rather than an obstacle to overcome, what if we were to say that the pandemic is itself an authentic learning opportunity for our students. Each university course could create a learning goal that tied to the pandemic, i.e., the sociology of pandemic, microeconomic impacts of pandemic, women’s history and pandemic, etc, etc.

Students would be charged with undertaking activities, individually and as collaborative groups relative to the subject and their personal situation. The course assessment would be using a pre-published rubric (such as the critical thinking rubric) and the artifact to assess would be a portfolio chronicling the student’s activity and learning during the pandemic event.

To manage the communications problem, a Web 2.0 approach needs to be designed. Tags and keywords would be agreed in advance (much like secret handshakes or signs) and these would be used to mark items on the web. Since single points of failure might cripple any single system, learners would use multiple systems, such as Wikipedia, Google Groups, Facebook groups, Blogger,, etc and create resources marked with the tags. Users would also be asked to post pointers in one system to resources in another, for example, in the Facebook group a user who found resources in would post a copy of the links found in That way, if any given system is out, or any given user offline, others have ways to work around the outage.

When the pandemic is over, instructors ask students to complete their portfolios, including copies or links to appropriate resources and a reflection on how those resources give evidence to their deeper understanding of the relationship between the course topic and pandemic. Assessment is by the rubric.