April 29, 2010

Online Teaching Evaluations

This morning I read, with some relief, a post over at Teaching Professor that echos some of my frustration with online teaching evaluations.

Since my current courses are taught mostly online, it makes sense to have students give me feedback online as well. Unfortunately, response rate is under 50% ... and it seems to be the 50% who have "suggestions for improvement" who respond. The other half of the class presumably found the course acceptable to the point where they did not need to voice an opinion. But without data, one does not know what parts of the course should be retained as is, since they may have met the needs of the majority ... or not.

I like the suggestion in the post that there should be some sort of incentive to complete these evaluations. They would, of course, need to be given by the system confidentially. But if it brings response rate up to something reasonable ... such as the 80% cited in the study, I would think it worth the work. Otherwise, we may be basing promotion and retention decisions on inadequate data as well as asking teachers to "fix" course materials that really are not truly broken.

Posted by bjohnson at 1:43 PM

March 18, 2010

Addiction or shift?

This morning, I'm sipping my coffee and reading the news, switching between print (the New York Times) and my trusty electronic feeds (via Google reader). Since I'm focused on the educational potential of online tools, I stopped to track down and read this article from Ars Technica on addiction to social media.

As is usual, I find myself mulling a difficult question or two. And I haven't even had my second cup of coffee (don't get me started on addictions ....)!

First off, as the article points out, defining behavioral addictions is problematic and open to debate. Many addiction specialists question the label "addiction" applied to compulsive behavior. And many Madison Avenue behavioral shapers simply enjoy the income. But that's not the question I am focused on today.

My question is: is this really new behavior? Or is it just shifted to a new medium? And how would we study this question?? I only ask because, as I reflect on my own use of social media and slick devices, I do not see substantial changes in behavior other than the fact that I can now do things once instead of twice.

Let me explain. Back in the old days, when I carried around a DayTimer instead of an iPhone, I'd spend a substantial amount of time --- at odd moments of the day --- making notes about what I needed to do when business hours started: who needed to be contacted, what memos needed to be written, what newspaper article I needed to clip and file, etc. And I do mean at all hours of the day. Being a multi-tasker and insomniac from my teens, it was not unusual for me to be up at 4 am writing out reports long-hand on a legal pad so that a secretary could type them up when normal people started working.

Now, I drink my coffee and read the paper as always, but I can file clips (in the form of URLs) immediately (in Endnote or star them in Google Reader). Instead of making myself a note to remind my students of a paper due next week, I can send it out now via Twitter or the Moodle news feed. I type up my own memos (more likely emails) and can send them out at 4 am, if that is when I'm thinking of it ... instead of making notes and hoping I'll remember what I was thinking about. Does this mean that I'm addicted to social media? Or was I addicted to (something .... work perhaps) before social media came along?

People frequently make a big deal about how we text or read electronic media in bed ... but how is that different from the prior sins of reading fiction or watching TV before falling asleep? I'd argue that a quiet game of Bejeweled is more relaxing than watching the nightly news, but I think I'll leave that question to those who feel like researching it (anyone want to get wired up in the sleep lab?).

Instead, I'll continue to wonder if we are all Rip Van Winkle, suddenly waking up and forgetting the progression of the past 50 years. We did not suddenly become a sedentary, media focused society with the invention of the smart phone. We've been sitting and amusing ourselves with cheap paperbacks, readily available newspapers, crossword puzzles and TV for decades. Is the shift to electronic media really increasing our consumption of media? Or do we just notice it now that we're not consuming the privileged print as much as we are the disruptive electronic forms?

Posted by bjohnson at 8:11 AM

December 20, 2007

Computer Mediated Communication vs. Face to Face Oratory

Computer mediated communication (CMC) appeals to a certain group of people and turns off others. Introverts and reflective thinkers love it. Extroverts and "on ones feet" thinkers do not generally like it. People who become energized on the give and take of conversation often feel that something is lacking. They point to the classical examples of great speakers, as an example of what discussion should be – face to face, without the deadening, distancing effects of the Internet.

Yet, oratory, except for the very privileged audience that is present physically, was and is often mediated. Even in classic Rome, an orator's words had to be repeated by other people (either synchronously or asynchronously) for him to have much impact beyond the immediate audience. The more famous and effective orators made better use of stylistic devices to make their words memorable (like a catchy tune sticks with you), worthy of recording (in an era when writing was very precious), or worthy of action. They also (giving a nod to Vygotsky here) made good use of their understanding of their own culture - using certain words or images important to their culture - to further their impact.

Winston Churchill and others made great use of the radio to spread their message. Martin Luther King, Jr. (and John F. Kennedy) actually made great use of the television as well as the local audience to get beyond their immediate locale in order to have a national impact. If they had been limited to speaking only to those people who were present - and could hear them without a microphone! Surely, they would have still been great, but how far could their message have spread without word of mouth, papers, radio, and television? As well as the very situational frame for each person's message - based in the needs of the culture and in its meaningful words and images.

What will the best use of digital media be in communication in general and education in particular? It is hard to say. Now, we have been recreating what we know in a new venue - which we always have done badly. Shortly, we will start to see what it can do well. I am reading Ian Bogost's book Persuasive Games, which is actually all about the new procedural persuasion possible in virtual worlds and digital games. We are just getting started with figuring out where we should use the new technologies for greatest value.

Posted by bjohnson at 4:43 PM

October 9, 2006

Gaming industry noticing that there is more than one gender

This is an encouraging article from the BBC regarding the growing interest in women and girls who play - or may want to play - video games: All women gamers, please stand up.

While it seems crass to care only about a market segment, that is the name of the game (no pun intended) when it comes to pouring money into a commercial product. Just as it took time for the sporting equipment and apparel enterprises to come around and court women with clothes and equipment that fits, the video game industry is belatedly reaching out to the female half of the species.

While I don't appreciate pink consoles any more than I like pink boxing gloves (no lie - they exist), I hope this trend will help expand the selection of available types of games and get us off the formula treadmill.

So, read the article from the BBC, and make sure that you scroll down to read the comments posted by many, many women who are claiming the title of "gamer."

Posted by bjohnson at 9:57 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