Archive for the ‘Pedagogy’ Category

A Waterloo for Publishing or for the University?

June 25, 2010

Cathy Davidson raised a series of issues in her reaction to a lawsuit known as Cambridge University Press, et al. v. Patton et al.

“My larger point?  We are in a confusing and damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t moment for publishing.  Scholarly publishing loses money.  Scholars who do not publish (at present) lose careers.  How do we balance these complex and intertwined issues in a sane way?  That is our question.”

Jim Groom has some thoughts on one aspect of this question — the issue of credit, or reputation, generated by journal publication:

“And, often times, but not always, that class [of author] is accompanied by three letters after their name and a long list of publications in similar journals which often, but not always, gives them entrè into the journal in the first place. Is this necessarily bad? No. Does it help certain ideas circulate to a particular audience? Yes. Are we putting too much power in the hands of these journals by reacting this way to the idea of credit? Absolutely.”

And as a result of highly valuing publishing in journals, we have created a system that is producing an avalanche of low-quality research.

Cathy’s question makes me think of the work of physicist A. Garrett Lisi, who is working outside the traditional academe system and who’s practice gave me insight to understand other ways of thinking about credit/reputation and also about gathering feedback for learning from a community:

“Lisi is developing social and intellectual capital by his strategy of working in public, and has posted a “pre-print” of some of his work in the highly visible High Energy Physics – Theory section of arXiv entitled ‘An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything.’

“The Wikipedia entry on Lisi’s paper gives a picture of how the work has generated social capital and become a focus of theoretical debate. The paper has been accumulating peer reviews (in the form of blog posts) and a number of citations including in refereed Physics journals as well as comments on the social news website”

So, I think Cathy is pointing us to a multi-faced conversation about moving beyond the University (see John Seely Brown or Charles Ledbetter or Clay Shirkey) each of whom is exploring forces that I think will probably address Cathy’s “damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t moment” by rendering traditional publishers in academe irrelevant.

In her post Cathy says

“Shouldn’t we be teaching the genre [scholarly monograph] to our undergraduates (because we believe it is intrinsically worthy enough to determine someone’s career in the academy) as an estimable form? … [If we] require at least one scholarly monograph in every English class, … we show respect to the genre we say that we live by and we give back something to the publishers who, right now, are expected to publish our work but who experience abysmal sales of it.”

Here, I think Cathy’s comment brings academic publishing into the national conversation about university accountability to stakeholders (the students and those investing in them). Molly Corbett Broad wrote in the Chronicle about the political landscape for accreditation and accountability “The administration has already indicated a willingness to take action when it believes that higher-education institutions are not adequately serving students’ interests.” (alas it is “premium content” that you may not be able to access) I think Corbett and Shirkey are talking about forces that may render more than just traditional academic publishing irrelevant.

It strikes me that the scholarly monograph, as a discipline for the mind, could be useful, but it might not be a form “worth studying in every English class.” It might be more useful for students to be developing skills in peer-to-peer pedagogies, based in forms like blogs and wikis, that operate in a context of information abundance rather than to be studying a form based on information scarcity and expensive publication; a form that will not be used by most students in their future careers.

Why do I focus on credit/reputation and legitimate peripheral participation rather than the academic monograph in a conversation about accountability for learning outcomes? Because, I think discovering conversations, contributing and getting feedback are important aspects of peer-to-peer learning beyond the university. Good feedback is a tool for growth, both for the author and for the community of lurkers (see John Seely Brown on legitimate peripheral participation.)

As to Cambridge University Press, et al. v. Patton et al., I think it will be a passing blip, swept away by much larger forces transforming learning.

PS. And thinking about feedback and peer-to-peer learning is why I’m posting this in my blog  (  )  and then cross-posting it as a comment in Cathy’s blog at HASTAC. HASTAC’s blogs do not appear to support Trackback, so  I can’t comment to Cathy in my blog, and consequently I need to post a comment in hers. Which means I need to create a HASTAC identity (see these objections to creating accounts everywhere). Further, a HASTAC comment does not track back to the people I cite – making it even harder for them to discover and join the conversation.

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.

Extending the Ripple Effect

March 29, 2009

Recently WSU launched Ripple Effect a website that bills itself as “an easy and effective way to do enormous good with a single tangible gift for individuals, families and entire villages in developing countries.” The concept works like Heffer International, the WSU site allows visitors to buy various items (a goat, a beehive, a water pump) which are distributed by an NGO operating in Malawi, Africa.

Ripple Effect gathers financial capital
It could be extended to gather Intellectual Capital.

ThinkCycle (2001-02), as described in Nitin Shaway’s MIT doctoral thesis is an example for how to extend Ripple Effect into Intellectual Capital. The project asks “How can we create an environment that encourages distributed individuals and organizations to tackle engineering design challenges in critical problem domains? How should we design appropriate online collaboration platforms, support learning, social incentives and novel property rights to foster innovation in sustainable design? ” Cathy Davidson has coined the term “collaboration by difference” for this general idea.

A recent story in the Daily Evergreen describes WSU Engineers without Borders developing wind turbine for Africa. Their problem statement is “… to make a very cheap, reliable source of energy that won’t need a lot of maintenance.”

About five years ago, CTLT partnered to design a distance offering of Decision Science 470. The students brought problems from their lives and employment; students teams selected one problem of their peers problems to solve collectively. The results were impressive for the students and their employers.

Ripple Effect retains 19% of each donation for indirect costs. An Intellectual Capital version of Ripple Effect would also retain value for the WSU, but in a different way.

In Ripple Effect, capital is applied to problems that have already been identified and whose solution has already been chosen — the farmer without irrigation needs a pump to get water from the nearby stream. The Ripple Effect FAQ mentions that WSU students are involved, but its description is shallow. An Intellectual Capital Ripple Effect would gather problem statements, a la ThinkCycle or the Engineers without Borders, and invite a world audience to contribute expertise to developing solutions. As we learned in DecSc 470, the instructor, at the center would have visibility into problem statements, problem solutions, and other elements of the process. The instructor of DecSc 470 discovered that such access led to new ideas for his research — meta-ideas that arose from mentoring the process. These meta-ideas are equivalent to the indirect costs, a tangible benefit retained from participation in the problem-solving process.

The DecSc 470 process produced artifacts that were used to credential students in that course. Last year’s Engineers without Borders produced an electronic portfolio that could been a credentialing tool. DecSc 470 worked in a threaded discussion inside a course space. Now we might advocate the course use blogs (to recruit help a la ThinkCycle), and with that more public process, we could easily add a Harvesting Gradebook.

Web 2.0 and Textbooks

February 25, 2009

Trent Batson has a piece in Campus Technology where he is exploring howWeb 2.0 Finally Takes on Textbooks. It reminds me that back about 2005 Dave Cormier posted an idea he called “Feedbook” that imagined a course got its “texts” via RSS. The instructor would subscribe the feedbook to several sources (blogs,, etc) and the aggregation would be fed into the course’ online space.

Fast forward. Yahoo Pipes is a very powerful aggregator that would would make Dave’s idea simple and Diigo is a social bookmark tool that supports highlighting web pages, groups, and discussion along side the page that is bookmarked. The combination would make a very rich feedbook. Students could be contributors to the feedbook via Diigo bookmarks.

Awhile back I went exploring in with the question, “could Amazon be an alternative to a Learning Management System?” What I wanted was a place for a learner to find community interested in a particular problem, build a portfolio of expertise and reputation, and engage in discussion. Amazon will do it and you don’t need to buy anything. Further, students would be in a position to critique traditional textbooks or to build collections of resources that could supplant a textbook with more primary sources. The only limitation I found on this idea was that the items had to be for sale by Amazon.

Implementing Obama’s 100 Hours of Service Plan

November 10, 2008

At the Obama/Biden transition site,, there is description of a universal voluntary service plan. This includes an idea to “establish a new American Opportunity Tax Credit that is worth $4,000 a year in exchange for 100 hours of public service a year.” And a goal to expand service-learning in the nation’s schools with “a goal that all middle and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year.”

That sounds exciting, but the downside in fraud and corruption is easy to see. To see the problem, look at who can certify my 100 hours of service to the Feds for my tax credit and what I might be doing for them to earn that certification. Beyond those limitations, where is the motivation for the 101’st hour of service? Where is the motivation to quality service? How does this service get leveraged into even greater gains?

Its still a great idea and there is a simple, and powerful, extension to it. We have been pointing at examples, and building some ourselves (see below). It requires a partnership between the school (its teachers and curriculum), the problem being addressed, and the community in which the problem is situated. Here is an example of real problem solving in service to community in a high school in Minneapolis, MN. Expeditionary Learning Schools/ Outward Bound are consulting with schools along similar lines.

For example, a school could set a goal to harness the interests and expertise of the school’s community (students, staff, parents and alumni) to address real world problems encountered by communities both locally and globally. Its curriculum would be designed to collaborate with community members – institutional, local, or global – to identify a problem, explore solutions, develop a plan, and then take steps toward implementing that plan. Students would engage these challenges as service learning. The outcomes of their work would be readily documentable using ideas like Gary Brown’s Harvesting Gradebook. But more than just documenting the student work, the process would have transformative impacts on the educational institution also, far more profound than the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) or the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) standardized testing.

The importance of this strategy is its immediacy. It can be launched rapidly (its already started), it can target needs in communities without a large bureaucracy to decide what the needs are. It can tap local resources and world resources at the same time. It scales well.


Harvard Program in Networked Governance “The traditional notion of hierarchical, top down, government has always been an imperfect match for the decentralized governance system of the US. However, much of what government does requires co-production of policy among agencies that have no formal authority over each other, fundamentally undermining the traditional Weberian image of bureaucracy.”

United Nations Volunteers “The paper argues that volunteering, like social activism, can be purposeful and change-orientated. Volunteering can be directed at influencing agenda-setting, policy-making, decision-making and representation, and is also an important mechanism for promoting empowerment, personal transformation and social inclusion.

The paper also highlights the complementary and supporting roles that volunteering and activism play in fostering participation. For example, social activism plays an important role in providing leadership, defining areas for engagement and mobilising individuals.”

EDUCAUSE Tower and the Cloud “The emergence of the networked information economy is unleashing two powerful forces. On one hand, easy access to high-speed networks is empowering individuals. People can now discover and consume information resources and services globally from their homes. Further, new social computing approaches are inviting people to share in the creation and edification of information on the Internet. Empowerment of the individual — or consumerization — is reducing the individual’s reliance on traditional brick-and-mortar institutions in favor of new and emerging virtual ones.

Land Grant 2.0 “Dramatic shifts in the economy associated with the rise of globalism call into question the traditional ways in which land-grant institutions have defined their roles in contributing to economic and social well-being. Since the assets most needed for global economic viability – a base of innovation, talented people, and ubiquitous connectivity – are core strengths of universities, it is fair to ask how these institutions can more holistically engage with economically distressed regions to build critical innovation economy competencies.” see also University of Illinois Global campus.

WSU ePortfolio Contest “The goal of the 2007 – 08 WSU ePortfolio Contest was to harness the interests and expertise of the WSU community to address real world problems encountered by communities both locally and globally. It called upon contestants to collaborate with community members – institutional, local, or global – to identify a problem, explore solutions, develop a plan, and then take steps toward implementing that plan.” See also specific winners: Margo Tamez, Kayafungo Women’s Water Project

ThinkCycle This is the thesis to study the (now-defunct) ThinkCycle project exploring “How can we create an environment that encourages distributed individuals and organizations to tackle engineering design challenges in critical problem domains? How should we design appropriate online collaboration platforms, support learning, social incentives and novel property rights to foster innovation in sustainable design?” This concept can be broadened out beyond the engineering domain to other problem domains. An example is National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance, that says of itself, “The NCIIA works with colleges and universities to build collaborative experiential learning programs that help nurture a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs with strong technical and business skills and the tools and intention to make the world a better place.”

A final example is Talia Leman, at age 10 organized fund raising for Katrina relief, and has since started to help other children become social entrepreneurs. In this NYTimes OpEd notes “Frankly, these kinds of initiatives have a mixed record in terms of helping the poor in a cost-effective way. But they have a superb record in enlightening and educating the organizers.” which may be exactly the outcome that is most important from some of these efforts. The Times piece also points out some other efforts along similar lines.

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.

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.

Start with pedagogy not technology

April 1, 2008

From the recently released ECAR report “Learners 2.0? IT and 21st-Century Learners in Higher Education (ID: ERB0807)”

Start with pedagogy, not technology. Creating a new learning climate demands that
chief academic administrators collaborate with chief information technology
administrators to develop incentives and rewards for faculty who reexamine current
teaching practices, for staff who support innovative teaching practices, and for students
who engage in new learning activities. For faculty, changing pedagogy is not necessarily
accomplished by simply introducing new technologies.
(emphasis added) Change starts with an
examination of pedagogy and domain content if new learning is the aim. Only then can
useful technologies and teaching strategies be matched to best achieve desired learning
outcomes. Across all ranks and disciplines, faculty should participate in the necessary
shift toward active engagement of contemporary learners.

This perspective is nice to see coming from a high profile source. They have a table “New Competencies for New Learning” on page 5 that lists long-standing tenets of how higher education functions, and contrasts it with new (Learner 2.0) functions. I find this table useful, but Stephen Downes’ ideas in Learning 2.0 (original table mid-way down here) more far reaching than the ECAR view. We have been exploring some of the implications of these learning/learner 2.0 in a case study we are doing for Microsoft of ePortfolio uses. I need to fold this ECAR piece into that work.

Part of the rejoinder to Virtual Worlds

November 9, 2007

OK, so Jim Morrison at Innovate tossed my challenge back, asking me to consider writing a piece, based on my post.

I went to look at the journal, asking, why bother? Why not just write a rejoinder in my blog? Its part of my portfolio, I retain control of my IP, I can collaborate with others via comments and trackback. Is a larger broadcast forum worth anything?

I found that despite the free account that is required to read an article, Google manages to index the articles. (That’s as good as my blog.) There is also RSS of the current Journal contents, and there are discussion features for posting comments on articles.

At random I picked Thomas Chandler and Heejung An’s piece, “Using Digital Mapping Programs to Augment Student Learning in Social Studies” as my tool to explore the Journal. (This will test if the Journal handles trackback.)

I’d chosen some text midway down the article to feed to Google and then went back to read the paragraph more closely, because of the links to Google Maps:

Because they help students visualize pressing civil issues in the context of the places that are most meaningful to them, digital mapping programs can bridge this gap. By using transparent overlays, these programs can enable students to examine a far wider range of community relationships than could be accomplished by any other means. Illustrative of this point are the many ways in which students can use digital maps via free applications, such as Google Maps, to create their own representations of their communities as they see them. This can be accomplished through the insertion of digital photos, hyperlinks, or video linked to specific placemarks on a city map. Taking this concept a step further, Google’s Sketch-Up (Exhibit 1) and Street View (Exhibit 2) utilities now make it possible for users to construct three-dimensional buildings and to navigate virtually through many of America’s city streets from the perspective of a person on the sidewalk. These interactive elements not only provide meaningful information that was not available in the past but also offer opportunities for learners to identify, engage in, and even help solve community-based problems.

The amount of online data available for digital mapping projects has also increased substantially (Exhibit 3). For example, it is possible for such programs to connect to government-sponsored Web sites, such as the U.S. Census Bureau , where vast amounts of data pertaining to any given community in the United States, as well as many parts of the world, can be downloaded and examined for free.

Now, this is a solid rejoinder along the lines Gary, Theron and I previously argued to virtual worlds. Why use a virtual world when these mapping tools in the real world allow students to work on real problems in contexts that are meaningful to them using real data. Who needs make believe?