Archive for the ‘Observation (surface & evaluate)’ Category

A brief history of SharePoint at WSU

November 7, 2007

FacOps started it. They needed a document management solution that could serve as an integration platform for the wide range of data sources that they use to manage WSU facilities. They were running the 2003 version, and evangelizing it in various ways. FacOps, ITS and several Colleges that had started exploring SharePoint hosted the “SharePoint Summit” in the summer of 2004. ITS’s contribution to the show was a demonstration of how SharePoint could be used to re-implement the functions currently served by Oracle in myWSU. What I saw in that demonstration had some big implications for CTLT.

1) The myWSU demo had a link to a SharePoint site for a class and I realized that if SharePpint could be used for a class site, that potential would be discovered by some of the Colleges beginning to host it. I argued that the potential existed for Colleges to begin using SharePoint for classes and CTLT needed to be prepared to consult with faculty and/or provide students with helpdesk support. My subsequent exploration of SharePoint with the help of Roxie Mitchell from Microsoft (winter 2004-05) convinced me that SharePoint could serve as a Learning Management System at least as sophisticated as “The Bridge” [an LMS that CTLT had created in 2000 and was retiring in favor of WebCT (now Blackboard CE)].

2) The other exciting piece of the SharePoint Summit demos was the MySite feature. When developing myWSU, we had looked at Oracle’s personal site and collaboration tools. They did not seem completely developed when we looked (2003) and the licensing costs prevented WSU from acquiring them. The SharePoint Portal tools were coming as parts of centrally purchased licenses, which changed the cost. Since the licensing resulted in zero cost to Colleges, individual Colleges might launch their own portals with mySites. WSU’s history with the adoption of Microsoft Active Directory and Microsoft Exchange made me believe that College adoption of Portal and MySites was probable. Exploring this idea with those colleagues, I found that the challenge for Colleges to give students MySites was that the students might use College resources for non-College purposes. That suggested that students needed access to MySites as a central resource — and a role for CTLT to play.

Concurrent with these events, CTLT was exploring the Open Source Portfolio (OSPI) tools, looking for an ePortfolio platform to offer the university. The SharePoint platform as ePortfolio was more appealing than OSPI for several reasons: 1) support and scalability, 2) overlapping skills/training (if faculty were being moved to SharePoint for enterprise-wide business reasons, the skills they learned would transfer to ePorfolios without needing to learn another tools 3) worldware (skill students built in SharePoint would more likely be applicable on the job than skills built in OSPI. 4) Personal control of a collaborative resource that was outside of any course, and could span a student’s career at the university (and possibly beyond).

By Spring 2006 CTLT had formed a partnership with ITS where ITS would deploy, and CTLT would provide user support for, SharePoint 2003 Portal (and MySites) for all current students and employees. At the same time we collaborated to create a SharePoint LMS offering — with the rationale that if faculty had MySite, they would (and already have) used it for their classes. The problem for the institution with classes in MySites is that its harder to provide central support (such as automatically arranging the student enrollment) and providing backup for records retention (since quite likely that the institution will have no knowledge of the class in the faculty’s MySite). Bellevue Community College was a year ahead of WSU with SharePoint MySites, and was having this experience. Thus, the MyClass LMS offering was initially motivated by “self-defense” against classes in MySites.

SharePoint for classes, while powerful and using the same SharePoint skills and training, is limited because it lacks a gradebook for sharing scores between instructor and student and a quiz/testing tool, which is popular as a testing strategy in some online courses. SharePoint is presently better suited to courses with discussions, project collaboration, or for courses where the instructor needs to share documents to students and the interaction otherwise takes place in the classroom.


OpenEd Week “X”

November 2, 2007

Previously I posted on David Wiley’s Open Ed online course. I decided to drop in on the course and see what was happening. I found Alessandro’s post of his frustrations with the course, with David Wiley’s reply:

Alessandro blogged tonight about the same frustration many of us (myself included) are feeling with regard to the Intro to Open Ed course. Alessandro’s frustrated that I haven’t been providing as much feedback as might be desired. I have to agree. With about 60 students following the course, I could easily spend all day every day responding to what you are all writing and still not keep up.

I think its important to surface an assumption going on here and look into some alternatives, especially in light of what this course is about (or maybe what I read “Open Education” to be about). David talks about reading and responding to each student, as if that is his role. Students talk about the “dry” readings and their posts as summaries of those readings.

What if instead, David had framed the course differently — A few general readings to start things off, and a request for each student to propose an open-ed project that interested them and that they would research. However, rather than working alone, students would be asked to form teams among the class members, selecting among the proposed projects the one that they found most interesting. My friend and former colleague Stephen Spaeth designed a distance course (Decs 340) using that concept. The students were all older, working, and had authentic on the job applications for the ideas of the course. Theron DesRosier places this design idea into a broader context when he talks about bringing the outside world into the class.

In addition to working on projects, students would weekly post about readings related to open education they were finding that aided their projects. Some would delve into learning objects, others into copyright and licenses. The topics of the course would get “covered” but driven by the authentic work of the students. The learning of any individual might not be as wide as the course survey, but it would be deeper and more lasting.

Wiley’s student Karen Fasimpaur has proposed a project that I think fits the notions above when she writes (outside of class!?) about her project idea to create a kids dictionary. This looks like an open education activity, when she asks “How could this be hosted to best facilitate mass collaboration?” [Frankly, I’d like to get involved in such a project, and I’d start by suggesting that kids working with parents and teachers could be the authors. Other dictionaries would be a resource to them. I’d also endorse Karen’s inclination to use a wiki for the reasons outlined here.]

I see notes in the course that it has been redesigned in the latter weeks of the semester to give students more reflection time. Perhaps it could still be modified to give students more peer-critique responsibilities as well. A rubric such at the one in WSU Critical Thinking Project might be adapted to provide the framework for the peer feedback, and (for next offering of the course) even the framework for the instructor assessment.

How are we changing teaching in light of digital tools?

October 19, 2007

Digital Ethnography wiki asks:

What are we DOING to change how we are teaching? If you have any great examples of how you have changed up your classroom (or “classroom”) in ways that are more in tune with the information environment in which we all now exist, please comment. I am looking for examples that span all the possibilities

This is the group lead by Micheal Wesch that has created a series of provocative videos including:

So Wesch and company asks us “what we are DOING to change how we are teaching” and I want to rephrase the question to talk about learning — because the “Vision of students today” video really suggests that the learners and the learning are contextualized differently.

By way of answer, I’d point to these pieces of CTLT work (in no particular order):

What do you think? Am I on the right track to shift Wesch’s focus from Teaching to Learning? Am I missing examples, or are these unclear?

Communication Tools for a Small Community Organization

September 20, 2007

Recently we (at CTLT) have been talking quite a bit about portfolios as tools for leaders and learning (as opposed to showcase) portfolios as vehicles to make learning visible. I’m part of a team working on a white paper for IT managers on the futures for Learning Management Systems. We agreed to work that process in public with the hopes of gathering more input. (Slow going so far)

I’m also involved with Palouse Prairie School of Expeditionary Learning and its communication needs are really the focus of this post.

We have several needs:
Ready communication by email with an audience. We have struggled to maintain lists of supporters, have ended up with multiple lists, have had lists go stale, have undoubtedly had people who wanted on the list get lost because getting them on was not simple.

We have also struggled with documents. Managing the most current version of a document, keeping up files of minutes and agendas, too much email tag.

Public facing web site. Something simple to maintain, fresh, with access to the resources that might be wanted. Something that can be the ready answer to how do I…

Calendars of Board meetings and other activities. This is pretty sparse.

All of which leads to email tag, phone tag, missed opportunities, missed meetings and general struggle.

Presently we have a Blogger blog for news (and open to comment), a Google Group (email in perspectives), and a website made with Google Pages, and two Google calendars (a private one for the Board, and a public one). We don’t have a place to keep working documents for collaboration, and we don’t have a public archive of our documents (given that we are attempting to launch a public entity, making the documents public seems reasonable).

What we don’t have is the perspective of having a portfolio of this project, a place to lay out our goals and our tools for assessing progress toward those goals. The Google Group allows email postings, and interested people can subscribe themselves to get emai but the UI & display is clunky. Blogger allows comments but you can’t subscribe to it as readily (unless you are RSS enabled). Google Pages does not allow distributed ownership/ editing and isn’t working too well to pull all these pieces together.

We need to unify all this into a structure that the Board, and other supports, can readily maintain and that makes a good public facing presence for the project. It seems that might be some form of project portfolio, but the platform is not clear.

Open Source Assessment and iPhone Hacking

August 31, 2007

In Half an Hour: Open Source Assessment Stephen Downes wrote:

What we can expect in an open system of assessment is that achievement will be in some way ‘recognized’ by a community. This removes assessment from the hands of ‘experts’ who continue to ‘measure’ achievement. And it places assessment into the hands of the wider community. Individuals will be accorded credentials as they are recognized, by the community, to deserve them.

We have been talking quite a bit the last few days about George Hotz and his iPhone blog.

The important piece in our conversations is that its easy to ‘recognize’ Hotz’ achievement (and a wide community has), and in the way he structured his blog, its easy to ‘recognize’ that he is a thoughtful and collaborative worker, these last two skills being important traits for employers, and his portfolio an interesting example of how students might demonstrate these global competencies in authentic project-based learning.

Worldware ePortfolios as tools for educational entrepreneurs

August 21, 2007

Recently John Gardner posted some thoughts on Entre/Intrapreneurs, and what roles especially they play in a university. This sent me to looking for the blog of Clayton Christensen author of Innovator’s Dilemma. What I found was not specifically Christensen’s blog, but an interesting group blog from his consulting organization. I added that to my blog roll because I’ve found ideas in the book shape my thinking about trends around me at Washington State University.

For example, I’ve been thinking about Innovator’s Dilemma in the context of BlackBoard Course Management System and alternatives that may exist to that (increasingly expensive) tool. Alex Slawsby’s post gives me some further insights in applying the ideas of “interdependency” and “modularity” that I think play well with my own Web 2.0 and ePortfolio thinking.

BlackBoard is an “interdependent” system (if I understand Slawsby), with many tightly linked modules. This produces an internally efficient product, but at a cost to the customer. We (WSU) the customer are looking for alternatives that are “good enough” and at lower price points. SharePoint 2007 looks to meet that goal. It also is an interdependent system, but less specialized, it is a collaboration tool used in many business settings. As a course management system, it does not have all the features of BlackBoard, but many faculty don’t use most of the features, so SharePoint may be “good enough.” And for the University, which can amortize the cost of SharePoint over many other collaborative uses, it might be at a lower price point as well. Ehrmann calls tools like SharePoint, developed for other markets and applied to education, Worldware, and argues that they deserve special consideration for being both valuable and viable.

In a previous post, Slawsby discussed a potentially more disruptive, and more modular approach than even SharePoint to challenge BlackBoard’s CMS — online services offering free storage or other free resources (eg Google Docs). These ideas begin to beg the question, what part of the instructional IT should be outsourced completely?

I would have previously said that the University can’t outsource its instructional applications, because the University needs to manage the identity (the login ID) of its students — because it has scores and grades tied to those student identities. I would have said, “You can’t have a student just using Blogger, how would you know who they were or that the work was authentically theirs?”

Enter the student, who is increasingly “swirling” (taking courses from two or more educational institutions concurrently). The student is treating the university programs as modules (Slawsby’s term), mixing and matching courses to make independently concocted programs. The student may use one institution as a home base, bringing in credits toward a degree, or may be jumping around, ultimately looking for someone to credential the melange.

I recently wrote about an electronic portfolio as the core learning platform. In that thinking, the portfolio serves as the place to present to a specific audience the collection of learning experiences and the value and meaning that come from those experiences. Those experiences are probably not test scores or even a transcript, but more authentic products of learning, work, and avocational activities. Such a portfolio should not be a broadcast, but more like a blog, be open to comment, a place for the learner to present her current state of thinking and seek input to evolve understanding.

Which brings me back to my interest in Dr. Gardner’s post on Entre/Intrapeneurship in the University. He says, “It [entre/ intrapreneurship] must be embedded in our WSU culture and our curriculum.” Given that swirling students are already acting like educational entrepreneurs, and Google continues to move in directions that allow those students the potential outsourcing of elements of our instructional IT, I think the time for Dr Gardner’s conversation has already arrived.

ePortfolio as the core learning application

August 17, 2007

Much of this thinking springs from Stephen Downes’ review article, eLearning 2.0. Experiments like ELGG and Dave Cormier’s FeedBook have implemented some of these ideas and added to our (Center for Teaching Learning and Technology at WSU) thinking.

Portfolio thinking/working includes these elements

  • Collect your work
  • Select from your work important examples, annotate what is important (add metadata)
  • Reflect on your work, are you meeting your goals, how do you know
  • Connect your work to that of others (may provide context, support, evidence of success)
  • Project your work into the community to solve problems (provides context and authentic evaluation)

Following these ideas springs our conviction that platform and tools for creating ePortfolios should be Worldware, rather than custom tools purpose built for education.

Bloggers have foreshadowed our ideas about electronic portfolios, where they are collecting their original writings and synthesizing/ reflecting about their readings.

In thinking about Pandemic Flu planning , we have looked at the multiple points of failure and proposed a loosely coupled teach-in, based on an ad-hoc set of tools.

Our 2007 ePortfolio Contest challenged contestants to document their learning growth — we wanted to explore how to gain insight into the learning that is often masked in a ‘showcase’ portfolio.

The more sophisticated blogger uses a blog roll to provide context about what influences them. And that blogger understands they are a “central node” (Resnick) of a (self-assembled) learning community — and the blogger/learner seeks critical input from others via comment and trackback. The blogger is engaged in dialog for the purpose of learning within a community of practice.

We understand the well developed blog to be a portfolio, but find its chronological structure can limit its utility to a would-be portfolio reader. Well developed “review” posts, that link to other posts (supporting evidence) in the blog can serve this synthetic, and demonstrative, role.

Using a portfolio platform allows the blog to continue in the mode where it is strongest, Collection and Reflection, while the portfolio provides a place to make a presentation to a specific audience for a specific purpose. Ideally the portfolio has its own file storage and Authentication/ Authorization structures to supplement the other systems from which it is aggregating.

In our thinking a portfolio (see Pandemic Flu), is a hub that can aggregate (but may not need to contain) artifacts (it might be important to bring the artifacts into the portfolio if issues of AuthZ might keep the portfolio reader from seeing the artifact, or if the artifacts are in locations where they are subject to destruction (an example of the latter might be a page in Wikipedia). Typically, the artifacts lie in native environments most suitable to them (Flickr, Blogger,, etc) and are arranged into the portfolio by tagging and a syndication mechanism (such as RSS).

The piece we are adding with our 2007-08 portfolio contest is the idea to engage with a community (local, national, international) on a problem and its solution. This requires the learner to learn in a multi-disciplinary way in an authentic context.

The portfolio, in this application, likely becomes a “collaba-folio” where the author is collaborating with a community in the work and documenting learning growth. It is not a showcase portfolio of a finished work. In fact, following BioQUEST, we think that authentic learning work is seldom “finished,” rather it is abandoned in favor of new, more important learning pursuits.

The teacher in this model is taking actions symmetric to the learner. The teacher is a more sophisticated learner, providing feedback to novices within a web of teaching-learning relationships. The teacher also understands that, through past reputation, he may have social capital to extend to a learner, and that extension can be done publicly via the teacher’s blog roll or by a blog post that synthesizes some aspect of the work of the learner with other members of the community (who may then provide the learner with feedback or resources). The teacher should be conscious in using social capital, and perhaps earned credentials, to advance the thinking of more novice learners into the communities of practice.

Templatize Your World

May 16, 2006

I’ve been trying to think about things like “Learning from Las Vegas” the book where Robert Venturi introduced the idea of building as “duck” or “decorated shed.” Decorated sheds are simple boxes with decoration applied as a veneer. Ducks are buildings that get their decoration from deep structural features (like the burger stand that looks like a burger), or the TransAmerica building that is shaped like a pyramid.

At the back of the hotel where I am staying, I was looking at some banquet tables — beat up, ugly discs on legs. But, when covered with a table cloth, and decorated, the table looks good, not like junk. And if the decorations (a veneer) are damaged, they are easily swapped out. Tables as decorated sheds.

I’m at a conference, watching a guy demonstrate features in Word 2007. He claims that people spend a lot of time formatting documents, changing fonts, trying to format tables, etc, to match the corporate branding, or to get a set of documents to look alike. So Microsoft is offering these new formatting aids (style the whole document, style the table, etc.) in Word to make all this take less time. And all this is possible because the document has been separated into its content and its styling. The whole document can be re-styled, or converted to the web, by some quick re-decoration. Document as decorated shed.

There is something in this skin deepness that is bothering me. It bothers me in architecture that is just appliqué. It bothers me in modular offices, Dilbert’s cubicle land. Its something about an insincerity, a theater stage set, for the relationships of life. Its a contrast from the simpler, and more genuine, feeling of a crafted space, enduring relationships.

Looking at these tools, I’m wondering if we can deploy them into higher education. If our users (bad word for teachers and learners) will accept them, or if they will demand a greater creative freedom. Perhaps, even if they will accept them, they require more creative freedom. Can one learn to be a creative, critical thinker in a templetized world?