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The Blog on Emerging Academic Technologies


November 2010 Archives

Fist full of tablets

iPod ... iTouch ... iPad ... iExplosion! When historians look back to 2010, they may very well think of it as the year of the tablet computer. The iPad arrived in the spring and it sold over 7 million units in its first half-year of existence. And within months, there are several pretenders to the throne: the HP Slate, the Dell Streak, the Blackberry PlayBook, the Samsung Galaxy. We're awash in computer slabs. Some like Flash, some ban it. Some are designed for business, some are glam. Here's a quick review of the current tablet lineup.

Horizon Report 2011 Preview

The New Media Consortium (NMC) has just released a preview of the 2011 Horizon Report. As explained on the NMC web site: "The Horizon Project, as the centerpiece of NMC's Emerging Technologies Initiative, charts the landscape of emerging technologies for teaching, learning and creative inquiry and produces the NMC's series of Horizon Reports." The report is produced in collaboration with the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative and technology professionals and educators from all over the country. As the title suggests, the full report will be published next year. Meanwhile, visit the wiki to learn more about the project and to review a list of the technologies they predict will be widely adopted in the next year, in the next two to three years, and the next five years.

You can also learn how to participate in the process before and after release of the report. One easy way to learn more and participate is to explore and contribute to tagged items in delicious.

"I know I can read a book, but then I'm up and checking Facebook," he says, adding: "Facebook is amazing because it feels like you're doing something and you're not doing anything. It's the absence of doing something, but you feel gratified anyway." (Sam Crocker, high school student)

Students, teachers, school administrators and researchers interviewed for this article offer thoughtful insights on students' immersion in technologies such as texting, Facebook and YouTube. A high school principal observes that students' choices in technologies amplify who they are: more social students like texting, while the more introverted retreat into video games. Students recognize that technology rewards them with instant gratification. They also understand that multitasking and the sheer amount of time they spend online compromises their ability to engage in deeper forms of learning. A teacher sees technology-focused classes as a way to reach at-risk students, but also worries that a student who aspires to be a filmmaker devotes too much time on developing his editing skills and not enough time reading. "If you're going to write scripts, you've got to read."

P.S. And there's a video, too! Question: does the video strike you as the Cliff's Notes version of the article, or does it bring new ideas to the conversation?

Teens and Texts

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, teens prefer texting above all other communication media, including face-to-face communication, telephone, email, and social networking tools. A remarkable finding, although the implications to higher education as those teens become undergraduate students are murky. Should we be texting the text, line by line? Or should they meet us on our own medium?

Twitter Tale of the Week

We might have to make the social action use of Twitter a weekly column. The best candidate so far this week is a curious meme cropping up over a bizarre legal decision over a silly Tweet... but it's only Monday.

A potential use for Twitter in the classroom: managing information overload.

John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, who lead Harvard University's Youth and Media project, devote a chapter to the problem of information overload in their book Born Digital. The authors assert "the amount of information on the Web is staggering--and potentially debilitating." Dealing with the sheer amount of information available online is beyond anyone's cognitive abilities. Information overload hampers young people from making good decisions and may have harmful psychological--and even physiological--effects. And of course from a teaching and learning standpoint, students must learn how to evaluate information as they learn how to become better researchers, writers and thinkers.

When students bring their laptops and other web-enabled devices to class, the flow of information can became a distraction when students spend their time checking email or Facebook instead of focusing on what's going on in the classroom. Some professors respond by banning devices or even shutting off internet access. But as this article on Inside Higher Ed suggests, a better solution may be directing students' attention through the use of Twitter.  A study of Twitter use in classes for first year pre-health majors found that tweeting can help keep students focused and "maximize time on task." And in the process, students became more engaged with the course and "built strong relationships across diverse groups."

The Board of Regents just announced the candidate for President of the University of Minnesota: Dr. Eric Kaler, Stony Brook University Provost. In this episode of Stony Brook's Innovations in Education, Dr. Kaler discusses the role of technology in education.

What are your thoughts?

Twitter Mob Rules

We've been talking about this for a month now: the extent that social networking is a potent political force. Now there's evidence that it's extremely effective (and quick!) for at least one thing: banning books. A Facebook page and Twitter outcry over what seems like a handbook to child abuse was initially met by with a floral press release about the importance of the first amendment. Hours later, in typical fashion, they quietly pulled the objectionable title from the store.

It might be noted that the same force also temporarily made what seems like a poorly written, toxic book into a bestseller -- no doubt due to the morbid curiosity of those who suddenly became aware of it because of the boycott. Without the boycott it would still be available, but floundering deep in the sales rankings. So is this win or lose for social networking? And how excited should we be that an outraged group can quickly bully into yanking down titles?

What better way to enhance the fallaciloquence of your tortiloquies than exhibiting your verbal pugnastics and obstrilligating clarity with a few obscure words on the brink of extinction? You can browse a slew of them, and even "adopt" a few, at, a clever website by the Oxford Dictionaries that makes good use of "bad design" to make an otherwise boring list of words into a fun experience.

I'm not sure if this Guy is a hero or a villain... er, just like in the movie. I guess it's a technological coup, though disappointingly trivial after the jolt of the intro.

You can hate your boss on Facebook without repercussions, says the National Labor Relations Board. The fallout could be that hundreds of companies (and even, say, Universities) have social networking policies that are illegal? Or maybe it doesn't mean that. I am not a lawyer. But a law firm warns companies that they should review their policies and make sure that they do not violate protected speech. It seems I've seen a lot of stories about people fired over Facebook posts (sometimes not even relating to their actual work). I'll be watching this one closely.

Timeline of a Twitter Storm

My colleague will be writing a more complete entry about the Cooks Source fiasco. However, since I was mostly struck by how rapidly the storm brewed (and how quickly it blew over) I am providing a short timeline of events.

8:00 AM (Thursday) See a reference on Twitter to a story about plagiarism; think maybe I'll come back to it based on outlandish quote, "The web is public domain."
8:10 Click through and marvel at hubris of small-time editor who insists an author she victimized should pay her. Note there are a dozen comments on the blog entry, all of them outraged.
9:30 See several more references on Twitter with links to blog entry, including some by famous authors.
2:00 PM See a link to a "definition" of editor's name that is rather vitriolic. Realize that her name is now in the popular lexicon.
3:45 See a Twitter account for the magazine, click through reactions to criticism and marvel at the audacity of the editor.
3:46 Realize the Twitter account is fake.
3:47 Tell person who tweeted it that the account is fake.
4:12 Note that Twitterer's link to the fake Twitter account (thinking it is real) has been Retweeted 37 times, but there is no response to my tweet about it being a fake account.
4:36 Find out coworkers have also been following the story. Learn that perusal of the magazine's contents revealed loads of stolen content from Food Network, Martha Stewart, and other sources. The magnitude of legal culpability astounds us.  I admit I'm starting to feel sorry for the small-time editor who has gone from anonymity to infamy in ten hours, though excusing none of her actions.
7:10 See a conversation on Twitter trading quotes from magazine's FB page with hateful comments and jokes about the editor.
7:20 Discover mainstream news outlets have picked up the story.
10:35 AM (Friday) Realize that nobody's talking about it anymore. Instead, they're talking about mom whose five-year-old son went as Daphne from Scooby Doo for Halloween.


Such is the power and danger of social media, where outrage travels at one hundred times the speed of reason.... and dissipates as soon as the next storm blows in.

In 1987, Chickering and Gamson suggested seven principles for undergraduate education that (supposedly) transcend pedagogical theories. Nine years later, Chickering considered how technology could be a "lever" for the seven principles, but now another sixteen years have passed, and while the principles haven't changed, the technology certainly has.

As classes move more and more online, it becomes more important to consider these principles and how well they are embodied by our hybrid and online learning environments, particularly in regards to student engagement (which I think is what at least six of the seven principles are really about, and perhaps all seven).

I looked to Chickering's two articles to frame a series of questions about online learning that might expose some of the limitations of those environments, particularly asynchronous environments where students may not have contact with one another or with an instructor, as well as looking for both native CMS strategies and external tools that can extend the learning space.

1. Do you realistically and explicitly help students manage their time?

It is easy to think of an online classroom as a timeless void, but it isn't for students. Your learning activities should set expectations for how long learners will need to complete each module or activity. Remember that twenty minute blocks are best while anything over forty minutes will seriously tap students ability to stay on task and remain focused. If you find many of your activities or modules are over an hour long, consider breaking them up or shortening them.

When adding a lot of supplementary resources such as documents and links to other websites, be sure to label these appropriately as optional and suggest how they might be useful to complete the objectives of the course.

2. Do(es) the instructor(s) in your course websites have presence, particularly in a way that makes the student feel genuinely connected?

There are easy-to-use video tools that can capture video from a webcam and embed it in the discussion board or elsewhere, such as the University's own Media Mill or YouTube. Rather than create and "can" the video in advance, instructors should consider creating the videos during the course in response to student questions and feedback.

3. Do learners have the opportunity to assess their own learning in low-stakes ways with prompt feedback?

Remember John Houseman in the Paper Chase? Students dreaded being at the wrong end of his pointed finger, but they sure prepared for class knowing they might be. That’s lost in an online environment -- the challenge to give a good answer to a tough question on the spot, and the professor’s withering and/or complimentary response. Most CMS have some kind of self-assessment tool but they may only be good for basic comprehension of knowledge as opposed to the higher cognitive goals. Can you introduce a discussion forum or other way for students to demonstrate deep learning, and can the instructor commit to validating their efforts?

4. Are there opportunities for students to reflect on what they've learned or connect it to past learning?

Learners in face-to-face environments benefit from hallway chatter and other opportunities to simply share their challenges and frustrations, as well as their rewards and "aha" moments as they make their way through the course. While this can be somewhat facilitated with threaded discussions, you may also consider how blogs, podcasts, or other self-publishing and self-broadcasting tools can help students process their learning in an honest and reflective way before they have to demonstrate it on a final assessment.

5. Are there opportunities for learners to learn together in a meaningful way?

A few of us in the faculty development group have lately been thinking about the different modes of collaboration in learning environments -- from "sharing" to full-scaled collaborative writing. The best strategy here may be more for students "sharing" with their peers by posting their work in draft form and getting feedback. Consider folding peer reviews and small group discussions around assignments, particularly capstone assessments. If the course is open for students to complete at different times and at their own pace, you may need to consider how to create cohorts or otherwise facilitate a process where students do not feel isolated.

6. Do you help learners see the big picture?

"High expectations," Chickering calls it, but perhaps a better way to think of it is "post-course expectations." Why are learners in the course? What do they hope to achieve not just from this class, but from their program? What is it all about? This may be one case where an online class has an advantage over a face-to-face class. You have the ability to connect to real world experts and cognitive mentors who can explain how each component of the class is relevant to them, as professionals in the field your learners want to pursue. Because it doesn't involve a huge time investment or travel, you'll have an easier time finding willing guests. Embed short videos of testimony, or invite guests to answer questions using a live tool like Skype or an video sharing service like You Tube, embedding the result right in your CMS. Of course, this is just one of many ways you might take advantage of the web medium to connect learners to the world beyond the classroom and how the learning relates to their professional goals.

7. Does your course website appeal to diverse talents and ways of learning?

Can you include high-impact visuals, videos, and interactive multimedia to enhance pages of textual content? Of course this is a resource-intensive investment, but you may be able to incorporate existing materials that others have made available, or find ways to invest in reusable media objects that can be used by several different courses in your college or department.

In 2010, the University of Minnesota's Science Teaching and Student Services (STSS) building was completed on top of the site where the old Science Classroom Building once stood. Since I had an office in the old building up until it was destroyed, and because I passed by the construction site almost every day on the way to work, I decided to informally document the destruction of the old building and the rise of the new.

In watching the video, I was struck by how quickly I had forgotten the old building and even the process of constructing the new one. The old Science Classroom Building certainly served its purpose, and many even enjoyed teaching in it. It had the look of a bomb shelter, and its concrete and protruding rebar exterior--a portion of that building was never completed so that it had steel bars jutting out from over the stairwells--gave it an indestructible feel. As the video shows, it took some concerted pounding to take the old stalwart down and a lot of effort to raise the new one.

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