October 27, 2004


I think it is ironic that I do my post on Take Back Your Time Day late - both years!

Last year, it was on a discussion board. This year, it is in a blog. I guess we do make progress of a sort ....

But, back to the point.

Take Back Your Time Day is an initiative by the Center for Religion, Ethics, and Social Policy at Cornell University. That's the first hook between TBYTD and this blog - it harkens back to the days when institutions of higher learning were also places where social change often brewed and were communicated to a wider audience. Whether a website or a blog, the ability to publish your thoughts can spark learning and action in others. Isn't that what education is all about??

The other hook is my enduring interest in using technology to IMPROVE learning, coupled with my concern that, in the effort to improve learning, we are overloading ourselves and our students.

One of the seven principles proposed by Arthur W. Chickering and Stephen C. Ehrmann (Implementing the Seven Principles) is that good practice emphasizes time on learning tasks. However, with our ability to expand learning activities well beyond the time and location of the classroom, are we in danger of asking students to spend too much time "on task" and not allowing them time to simply live? And are we in danger of doing the same to ourselves??

Frequently, when faculty first begin to adopt technology, there is the hope that tool X will help them get through with task Y faster or easier or more efficiently. But I often see that tool X sucks them into doing more - often just because they can.

For instance, a discussion board is a great tool to get everyone involved in a discussion. But, if you think about it, this potentially also greatly increases the amount of time you and the students spend on the course. Instead of a few people discussing an item in the classroom, now, the whole class will be expected to post something. You, the instructor, at a minimum, will end up reading perhaps 30 or 40 posts instead of listening to a 3 or 4 person discussion that probably would have taken 10 minutes, if that.

Without a doubt, this is a fairer scenario and one that allows you to know a far broader range of student opinions. But, if you keep adding to the amount of time required for your classes rather than replacing time for one activity with the same amount of time for a replacement, you are in danger of becoming increasingly time-starved. And you'll probably end up wondering why all these tech tools are supposed to save you time!

So, keep this idea in mind when you plan tech enhancements to a course. Look for places where you can REPLACE an activity that does not serve the educational goals well with one that will. Watch out for the amount of time it will require and resist adding activities just because they can be done outside of class.

Being a full-time student or professor does NOT mean that you live your entire life for learning or teaching. Take back your time.

Posted by bjohnson at 3:10 PM

October 22, 2004

A Use for Blogs

Imagine it is Sunday night. Tomorrow morning, you will go into your classroom and announce a group writing assignment. You want your students, in small groups of 3 or 4, to put together a series of essays on a given topic. Each essay can be done individually or jointly, but they should all be related to a common sub-theme that you will allow the groups to choose.

Since your school is trying to bring technology into the classroom, you want to involve computer technology SOMEHOW, but you don't want to spend a lot of time teaching technology since there already are not enough hours in the day for writing let alone teaching 20 or 30 kids (or more!) how to publish electronically. Heck, YOU don't even know how to do anything more than a boring web page.

If you leave the choice of publication medium to the students, you know you will be barraged with questions about how they are supposed to do this. They all have different schedules and cannot all get together at any one time to meet let alone work together. They don't all own computers or the same software, and you know you really don't want to read their scrawled copies of hand-written notes. They don't know how to publish things to the web, and if they do, they don't want to share their personal pages with other students.

So, what do you do? You blog.

No, "blog" is not a synonym for "cry in a corner". It is a way to publish content to the web quickly and easily.

A blog is usually defined as a collection of writings (called "posts" or "entries") on a theme arranged in chronological order on the web. The term "blog" is short for "weblog" or "web log" - which gives you some idea of the origin. "Blogs" were once ongoing web logs arranged by date as would any other type of log file. Now, as we enter the 21st century, they can be used for announcements, travelogs, personal journals, and informal personal publications.

Blogs are often hosted by blogging companies, although your technical staff can install blogging software such as MoveableType fairly easily and at low cost. They are easy for a host (such as yourself) to configure and make look reasonably good without knowing anything about web publishing whatsoever.

The best thing is that blogs can be set up so that a single author controls it or allows collaboration of a group, much like publishing a magazine. But unlike a printed magazine, blogs allow readers to make comments about the entries they read. It is like having an immediately available editorial page!

Blogs can be set up with various levels of restrictions, especially if you install it on your own system, so this can be tailored to the classroom's needs. While the tradition of blogging is for wide-open spaces and nearly anything goes, you may not want just anyone coming in to comment on little Johnny's work. On the other hand, it can be an incentive for learners to write well if they know they can share their achievements with family and friends. It might even help them clean up their spelling and grammar when the audience includes more than their teacher or professor.

But this is not to say that blogging is the answer to all of your collaborative or publishing needs. You should also look into related technologies such as threaded discussion and other collaborative software. Always start by looking at your needs and those of your students before selecting a tool!

Posted by bjohnson at 12:14 PM

October 19, 2004


The purpose of this web blog (i.e. "blog") is to locate the up and coming computer technologies that are or may be useful in higher education.

In addition, we may well be reminding people of the old and tested programs that are underused and should be looked at in a new light. You can teach an old dog new tricks - unlike certain gophers we know....

Posted by bjohnson at 12:09 PM