Saturday, December 19, 2009

Beer Fail

Here's a funny end-of-the-week FAIL image for you all :-)

And for those of you who are wondering what the Beer-Lambert Law is, our friends at Wikipedia say:

In optics, the Beer–Lambert law, also known as Beer's law or the Lambert–Beer law or the Beer–Lambert–Bouguer law (in fact, most of the permutations of these three names appear somewhere in literature) relates the absorption of light to the properties of the material through which the light is traveling.

It sure makes me happy that I wasn't a physics major :-)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

From e-learning to We-learning

OK, this one goes back a while (back to September as a matter of fact!)

It's been sitting in my RSS starred items folder for a while waiting for me to do something with it. For the longest period of time I did not know what to do with it. The reason for this is that what the author writes seems so bleeping obvious (with the exception of the made up term "we-learning").

I remember back in the day, when I was a wee MBA student taking a course in Knowledge Management (sidebar: just looked at my transcript - wow, that was Spring of 2006! it seems so long ago), we spoke of these issues of capturing knowledge within the company and how we can capitalize on it, either through formal or informal means. The books and cases we used were anywhere from less than a year old to things that went back a decade (or more). The key thing here is that the idea of using informal learning, looking to your fellow coworker for knowledge, is an old thing and I am surprised that learning specialists took this long to start looking at it.

In management we called informal knowledge "water cooler knowledge". You go to the water cooler, someone happens to have a question, you may have an answer or know someone who has an answer and you use your social network to find answers (and heck sometimes learn). I think the only thing that is different today is the proliferation of additional pieces of software that allow us to do more and in different ways than before. Does this mean that it's a paradigm changing model? Perhaps....then again perhaps not. Just because you use some new tech doesn't mean that you have a completely different paradigm - the underlying theory may still be the same.

Is this line of thought going anywhere? Well, perhaps not. Maybe this is why it took me such a long time to write this. Then again, this isn't new - it's just a new name for something that existed and apparently we've ignored.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The is near (today actually!)

This is it! The end of the semester!
All papers are in, all projects are in, classes are no longer in session, and I have no finals! My obligations (academic ones anyway) are over for the semester!

I have to say that this was one challenging semester, and I am quite happy it's done! Next semester I am finishing off my MEd in Instructional Design, and with a little luck (and possibly lots of studying) in one year's time I will be done with my MA in Applied Linguistics as well.

I've started to slowly read my materials for next semester - yeah I know! The semester is barely over and I am already starting up again? Well, I learned long ago that in Grad School (this may apply to undergrads as well), that the old Greek proverb "Των φρονίμων τα παιδιά πριν πεινάσουν μαγειρεύουν" is very true. The proverb, loosely translated, says "Kids of proper parents cook before they are hungry" - I guess it's sort of like the boy-scout motto "always be prepared".

The stuff I am reading now is for sociolinguistics. I guess in January I can put the finishing touches on my capstone for Instructional Design and prepare my presentation for this year's CIT conference (oh yeah, did I mention? My proposal for engaging students outside of the classroom was accepted, and I am presenting! Woohoo!)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Down to the wire

OK, this is it!

All hands on deck (I guess that gives me a grand total of two hands) - projects are due on Tuesday!

No commentary for the next week or so on Instructional Design, Linguistics or Academia because research papers are due - but thanks to Steve Kaufman, Cammy Bean and Karl Kapp (and many others!) I have a ton to write about once I am done with my school work.

OK, no more messing around - now back to research...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Ok, Ok...
I was going to start the month off with something more serious (that response to SK for example), but the semester is almost over, my brain power is taken up with more homework/paper related things (i.e. getting them done on time), and it's December first! So here's another little humorous start to your academic month :-)

I wonder if Google has indexed all academic articles going back like they've done with books. Perhaps a google trends on articles would be a fun thing to do on spare time...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Turkey Day (for those in the US)

I was going to wrap up the month (now that I generally post on a Tuesday-Thursday schedule) with some thoughts on Steve Kaufman's semi recent rant on Theorists muddling language education. However, since it is a holiday in the US and I am inclined to post something more light hearted and humorous, here's a recent xkcd comic on the differences between academia and "the real world". I think that some of my friends out there will get a good laugh!

Be safe, don't eat too much (those of you who are celebrating thanksgiving), and do spend some time on homework - the end (of the semester) is near!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cloud Computing in Plain English

I like common craft videos and I was a little disappointed that I had not seen a new one for a while. Well, the good folks over at common craft have created a video for cloud computing. I think that I sense a change in direction here for these videos - previous videos seemed to be more for the layperson-enduser, however this particular video seems to be targeted toward the layperson-manager. Interesting, but not as entertaining as the other ones :-)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Command Structure


I just loved this PhD strip from a week or so ago :-)

Everything is predicated on doing the least amount of work, which is work that doesn't waste time hahaha :-)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Busy month!

Wow, this semester is really (REALLY) moving along quite fast. This month is just flying by, and December is going to be quite literally two class sessions. Lots of stuff is due, lots of papers, final projects, critical

So what's on my plate?

- Observation Analysis + Lesson plan for my ESL methods/materials class

- Complete Thematic Unit Lesson Plan for my Foreign Language methods class (yes they are different)

- Critical Analysis Essay for my Foreign Language methods class (plus an evaluation of a classmate's Essay)

- Evaluation Plan for an eLearning class (see Kirkpatrick for details)

- Put the finishing touches on the Academic Integrity Training that I am creating

- Finish off the rough draft of my capstone.

I guess I don't really have to do my capstone stuff given that I am actually supposed to do it next semester, but I am really into it, so it's hard to put something down when you've got a lot of inspiration for it.

On top of all that I've got a few research articles that have been nagging me to read them for the past few weeks. Interesting stuff - but no time! Hmmm... Articles on tape...someone should do that ;-)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Multilingualism, please!

I guess that by this point you've guessed that I am a language geek (among other types of geek). A week or so ago I was reading this opinion piece, titled Only English Spoken, on Inside Higher Ed.

The author goes through a synopsis of historical liberal arts education, and the role that foreign languages played in it. The general view of the opinion piece (which you should read, by the way) is that if you are only monolingual you are denied access to a lot of inside knowledge. While a lot of information may be available in your native language (English for example in most cases in the US), and a lot of information is available in English (science and technology related information in my case), there is a corpus of knowledge both written and spoken that is not available in English and that knowledge is inaccessible if you don't know that language.

I happen to agree with this point of view and I do agree that as college graduates from US universities we should be at least bi-lingual, if not proficient in reading in three of four languages. However, I would add that in my view foreign languages need to be part of the curriculum in earlier grades. Kindergartners should be exposed to two languages (English and something else), by grade six we should have communicative competency in both of them, and by end of grade twelve students should have communicative competency in three languages. When student get into college, they should then pick another language that they want to learn and cultivate.

By learning another language you don't just have access to a corpus of literary work and knowledge from other places, you gain access to the people which helps you in ways that you may not have yet imagined.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Getting that warm fuzzy feeling of "I've been there! Done That!"

I guess this is one of those self-congratulatory blog posts ;-) I'll try not to be too cocky about it :-)

Anyway. Recently a colleague of mine sent me this blog post from the .eduGuru blog. The blog post is interesting to read so you should go ahead and do that. The quick highlights though are these:

1. College wants to do something exclusive for new students
2. College creates online exclusive community
3. College uses Ning to do it.

There have been many instances where I've had ideas for things that would make student's lives easier, but this is one idea that I actually grabbed and ran with it - and the result if the UMass ID community on Ning.

Of course my goals weren't just to welcome new students. My goal was to create a community of practice made up of current students, newly accepted students to the program and of alumni. People can come and be welcomed by a community of practitioners, they can find information about the program (what they need to do to graduate, what classes are available, and so on) and a place where they can ask for info about things that affect their professional lives as well (such as knowing a good source for training on a certain topic).

I have to say that I am not the only person that thought about doing this for an academic environment and then went ahead and did it, but having done it, and seeing other people follow the my footsteps and those of my fellow pioneers in the field makes me feel good to say "been there, done that, thanks for validating the methodology" :-)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Intro to Instructional Design - what should it be? (part 2)

OK, so in the last post I covered the model to be used in an introduction to instructional design class. Now the model should not be the focus of the course. The model should be an overarching theme that can be used to tie other elements together, and to be used in producing a final project in the course.

In an intro class I could expect the following:

Introduction to some learning theories: Theories like behaviorism, constructivism and so on. Just give people a 30,000 foot view of the theoretical knowledge in the field.

Semester Project: This would be a project that would make students think about all the steps required to design instruction. The topic could be something as mundane as making a spanish omelet or a monte-cristo sandwich. The point here is that students will need to think about everything that needs to go into instruction and create the instruction. This would be a group project (no more than 3 members)

Mini Research Papers: Nothing crazy, just 2 papers in a semester, 3-4 pages long (double spaced) where students need to go to the library, research two articles per paper and give their opinion in how it all fits in with the theories that we are doing in class.

Major Research Paper: Based on a topic for the whole class, write a 10 page research paper that uses the theory taught in class, along with other research that you've done on your own, to illustrate a given point (or to dispute it).

Some people may cry foul, saying that the course is too research oriented. At that I say "phooey!" Several studies, however incomplete, seem to indicate that instructional designers don't consult theory in their day to day work. They don't even do it as a hobby or for professional development.

It's important for students and professionals to have the ability to conduct research to problem solve situations that they have not been in and to try to understand different SME contexts. Doing is over-rated in an introduction context, it's the mind that needs sharpening, especially if you haven't been to grad school, or if you haven't been in school for a while.

Just my two cents on the subject...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Intro to Instructional Design - what should it be? (part 1)

In the past couple of months I've had some interesting discussions with colleagues and classmates about the introduction to instructional design class that we've taken in our instructional design program. It's interesting that people generally tend to fall into one of two camps: the anti-Dick & Carey camp, and the for-Dick & Carey camp.

Before I go on, let me just say that our program uses the Dick & Carey model for approaching instructional design. The camp that loves the Dick & Carey model likes it for breaking down the process into discreet steps. They don't like models like ADDIE or ASSURE because they view them as sloppy.

On the other camp, the Dick & Carey haters, I've heard arguments that the intro to ID course should not be a course on Dick & Carey; even though Dick & Carey might be a great model to use in real life do you really have time for all those steps?

I think that the truth lies somewhere between both camps. I think that an intro to ID course should cover all of the sub-steps involved in the process of creating instruction (learner and context analysis, instructional analysis, materials selection, etc.) The model you use makes no difference in the end product. If you're a sloppy and careless designer no model will save you. Crapid elearning is just that - rapid crap - no matter what model you use :-)

Having said that it would be useful to pick one model (I would personally go for Dick & Carey), and then contextualize that model and how the steps in that model overlap with steps in other models. Just going over the sub-steps and not giving learners the overall picture is of no use.

The disadvantage of Dick & Carey is that the textbook is simply awful and too dense to be used by novices. You need someone to 'translate' what the book says, you can learn the content, and then go back to the book for both an in-depth analysis and additional content.

Just my two cents on the subject...

Monday, November 2, 2009

New media is dumb is like txting - waaaaaah!

I really wish I could do an Adam Sessler like video podcast on this (complete with sessler-like sarcasm ;-) ) - Oh well, I think I will keep it to text.

I was reading an article on Inside Higher Ed a couple of weeks ago and I was waiting to see what comments this story would bring up. Alas, only about 13 comments.

In any case, the blog post here is essentially about collaborative learning using technologies like blogs and wikis in the classroom, and making the knowledge available to the world and having it be accessible after the course ends - something that is currently not done in Blackboard. I've written about this topic before so it's nice to see others picking it up.

The story here isn't really the blog post itself, but rather the comments that were left on the story by various members of IHE.

What I find AMAZING are comments like these:
I spend too much of my time trying to get students to punctuate, capitalize, and, more generally, to not write as if they're tweeting or texting, etc. Those media are definitely not conducive to careful, reflective, critical discussion, or to good writing. And too much of what I mark already takes on the character of that coarse, casual, and unattractive style.

I really don't get why people think that the medium is inherently not suited for academic discourse. The commenter disagrees that the medium has something inherent in it that makes it not conducive, but it just is not conducive. I wonder if this person knows the meaning of inherent - or if he does, he doesn't want to admit that blogs and wikis can be used in academic discourses and therefore just dismisses them as "not conducive".

I can take a piece of paper and use txting lingo, OMG. U SRSLY think that blogs r the only place that u can use sutch language? ROFLMAO, what a closed minded person - 2 bad hes a filosofer - doing a diservice 2 his profesion.

You get the point,... I hope.

There's more that I disagree with this person, but he is such a close minded individual that it's not really worth taking up any more space on here. It is worth going over to the blog post, reading that and comments.

The bottom line, there is nothing inherent in blogs, wikis and web 2.0 technologies that precludes the possibility of spell checking, creating coherent sentences and arguments that are backed up by research. Students will need to learn, and write, modern standard American English in order to be able to fit into society at large. You can teach someone those skills on paper, using a typewriter, using a computer with a word processor, or using blogs, wikis, and discussion boards. All you need is a good teacher.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Course offering - some thoughts

I was reading University Diaries on InsideHigherEd the other day and I came across this point-counterpoint

[C]atalogue copy is prepared yearly (sometimes twice yearly), which means that universities are almost always “lying” about their programs. Let’s say a student applies to a department because it offers a specialty he is interested in, and he arrives to find that the key players — the ones he wanted to study with — departed last month. It’s hard to see why he should have a legal remedy. There is really no one to blame...

Has Fish not heard of the computer? Students rarely get course information from slowly prepared print media; everything's online now, including catalogue copy, so there's no reason why it can't be updated rapidly and constantly. Again, I agree with him that legal remedies for complaints about this are absurd; but he's not acknowledging the reality of universities. The problem's not the slow publication of information.

I have to say that as a student I experienced this. When looking at Masters level programs I did look at the course catalog, online, and I looked at the department's website as well. The courses offered seemed plentiful, however when you actually do some analysis of when each course is offered, you will only see about 10 courses and all those great electives are nowhere to be seen.

Yes, the prospective student does have a responsibility to look at course catalogs to see what courses are offered, but how far back do you go? One year? Two? Five? Ten? Not to mention some systems, like the peoplesoft system we have at UMB, requires some specialist knowledge to go through and gather this data. I know how to use it, but many in my cohort do not (those who aren't tech savvy are completely lost). There are many electives that I would have loved to have taken as a grad student, however they were not available, either because of a lack of a specialist, or because a lack of labor, therefore only core courses are covered and those electives are not.

I do think that webmasters and people who make course catalogues should do their due diligence an either automatically prune and not print courses that haven't been offered in four semesters (2 years), or print the last three occurrences that the course was offered, so students have a general idea of the frequency of the course offering.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Congitive Overload

I love SlideShare!

You can find some pretty exciting presentations on there :-)

Here is a primer on cognitive overload:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Core Principles in Research

I love the PhD comic strip :-)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Strategies for graduate student success!

OK, I fibbed, I am not going to give you the magic bullet that will make you an uber-student being able to tackle three graduate classes, a family and full time work! Heck, I don't have those answers to give :-)

The situations recently where people tried to tap into the "secrets" I have for being able to manage a full graduate course load plus a full time job made me think of a seminar that I had as an undergraduate called "study smarter, not harder". At the time I was overwhelmed with working two part-time jobs (45-55 hours per week) plus a full course load (4 courses). I was tired, I was stressed and I was looking for a magic bullet. When I went to this seminar I thought to myself "whaaaat? Seriously? Your tip is not not leave things 'till the last minute? WOW! Now THAT is a revelation!"

My workflow (i.e. "tips" or "magic bullet") works for me, but it is not a guarantee that it works for everyone and in all situations. So what is my workflow?

1. Think of your graduate studies as a whole, not semester by semester. Get a graduate prospectus, see what courses are offered (you should have done this before you applied to the program, but I'll give you a pass on that), and jot down which courses are required, and which courses are electives you would like to take.

2. Now that you've got that list, build yourself a roadmap, how will you get from bootcamp-course to graduation? Which semesters are courses you want offered? We are creatures of habit, so if you look at previous Fall, Spring and Summer semester catalogues (generally available online), you can see what courses were offered in the past, and then you can estimate which semester you will be taking which class.

Some schools are on the cohort model, so you can only take certain classes in certain semesters, so steps 1 and 2 are already taken care for you!

3. Don't register late. The earlier you register for next semester, the better idea you have as to what will be required for your coursework in that semester. This means that you can bug...err...I mean politely request syllabi and course textbook information from the faculty.

Case in point: Registration for Spring semester starts in two weeks. I know which courses I am going to take, which means once I have successfully registered for spring, I have Novermber, December AND January to start preparing for the Spring semester which leads me to point 4

4. Start going through your readings early! If you know what textbooks and articles you will have to read for the spring, read a little bit here, a little bit there and by the beginning of the next semester you will have gone through all the readings with enough time to have them percolate in your head and you can enjoy what you are reading and make meaningful connections - instead of gorging yourself on information that is probably going to pass through your system without much impact.

Now you ask what happens if the professor does not send you a syllabus, OR you don't have access to journal articles used in class? Well, that is where connections come into play. Some of your classmates probably have taken the courses that you want to take before, or they know of someone who did recently. Again, we are creatures of habit, so syllabi don't radically change from semester to semester, so if you get the readings from a semester or two ago (but same professor), then you're all set.

5. Once the new semester starts, all you have to do is go over what you've read already (if you've highlighted or underlined or made notes in the margins, your review is going to be MUCH easier). Then you can sit back, enjoy the class, and focus on the projects you need to do.

Now when I've told people this simple procedure, they generally tell me that they lack the discipline to do this. This is fine, but as I said, there is NO magic bullet. You will need to find the discipline in order to be successful. No planning and no discipline to keep to that plan, whichever one it might be, means that your time in grad school will be made much tougher :-)

So find what motivates YOU, find a process that works for YOU and use that - whatever that may be :-)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Moodle and Web 2.0

I cam across this presentation recently on Moodle and Web 2.0 features

Yes, it is quite interesting, but I think that LMS creators are missing the point. The reason why Web 2.0 is popular is because you are not in a walled garden. The content is open to the greater internet using community, and you've got many, many users creating, posting, remixing, tagging and categorizing this information. In an LMS you've got 30 people - max - and at the end of the semester that work is lost to the student, and it's not accessible to new students. In essence at the end of each semester you have a tabula rasa.

Web 2.0 will work for education in some instances if the walled garden approach is taken, however it will really fly if we move beyond the mindset of each semester being a separate island if we want to use Web 2.0 tools effectively.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A successful student ?!?!

I've had a couple of interactions with recent grad students - tapping into my knowledge of 'the system'. There is no doubt that in each person's mind they want to be a successful student - however the definition of what a successful student is varies from person to person.

Some people want to be a successful student that takes as many courses as possible in order to graduate as soon as possible. They generally seem to look for courses that are low-impact so that they can get that coveted 'easy A' - I guess this would be the grad school equivalent of speed dating, but instead of partners it's courses, and and the end of the night instead of a name and number your get a degree. In my opinion this isn't being a successful student. In many respects it's probably a short term success and a long term failure.

So do grades not matter? Should we take the slow path through grad school? Those are silly questions! No, you should not take the slow path through grad school - unless you don't need a degree as a credential of course, so you are more free to experiment. Grades also do matter because in most cases they are an indication of how much you've learned.

So what is a successful student - and by extension a successful learner? Well, as far as I am concerned, a successful student is a student that has found that balance in their work-home-school life where they are able to take just enough courses to challenge themselves, where they learn new things, connect them to existing knowledge and can then go out there and practice what they've learned and analyze and improve their own performance.

How does one become a successful student?

Well this is a topic for another post ;-)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Open Source Textbooks...

File this under random thoughts...

So, we've been talking about textbooks in my linguistics classes for the last couple of semesters and how most of them suck when it comes to language learning. My classmates who do teach languages for their day jobs constantly find creative ways of working through the deficiencies of the texts that they are saddled with. On the other side of the fence, in instructional design, we do talk about materials selection, and if there is material that will fit your needs, appropriate it, otherwise make your own (if time and money are not an issue).

I happened to read a blog post recently with language learning resources on the web and I was reminded again of wikibooks. This lead me down the path of open source textbooks such as wikibooks and Flat World.

The big question here is why don't we do it? Why don't we subject matter experts get together and create language textbooks that don't suck? Get some linguists, some language experts and some instructional designers together and create a revamped curriculum (one that is licensed under creative commons preferably) for French, Italian, Greek, German or whatever other language you teach.

Heck, this might go a long way toward creating some sort of unified curriculum for language learning that could be adopted across the land. One of the reasons that textbooks stink is that they either subscribe heavily to one notion of language learning (like the audiolingual method for instance) and that methodology (or even content that is in the book) does not jive with the teacher's methodology, the current second language acquisition knowledge and research, and the curriculum of the school that you teach in. Create free books (and in essence create a curriculum), you may get converts.

(or you may not, but it's worth the try)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Dewey Dilemma?

Time to put on the librarian hat ;-)

Sooooo, I was reading on Library Journal recently and article called "The Dewey Dilemma". For those of you how haven't stepped foot in a public library recently, most books are categorized according to the Dewey Decimal System (see this wiki article for more info on the DDC). Now many libraries are trying to make their collections more accessible to the public and they are thinking of either switching to the BISAC system (the one used in bookstores in the US), or having some sort of hybrid system between Dewey and BISAC.

As I was reading this article, and as I have followed along with debates on listservs on the issue, I can say that this is not a Dewey system, it's not even a classification issue (how you organize books). Rather it's an issue of how your customers (or "patrons" in library speak) are looking for information. What is the purpose of the library? and How are are people going about their information retrieval?

In all fairness, Dewey is now difficult. The LC (library of congress) system is not difficult. The systems are not perfect, but they are functional, even if you don't know the lingo. These systems help with discoverability of related books to the one your originally were looking for - and they help you when you don't know which book is helpful to you if you just want to browse. Of course this presupposes that you know the lingo. With BISAC you just have to look for "travel" or "computers" and then you can burrow down to more books. When you put it like this, of course the layman will prefer "Travel" over 910 (in Dewey) - D'uh :-)

What this boils down to, and this applies to people in the knowledge management field, and other information professions, is knowing your customer and how that customer looks for information - and whether you would want to have someone just come in and inherently know where to look (something that is impossible if you ask me), or whether they would need a quick bootcamp course to help them figure out how the system works.

Personally I don't know how anyone can be successful in using a library to find things if they don't know how that library is organized and how to use an electronic card catalogue. I think that books should be organized in a way to promote research, rather than a bookstore-like atmosphere, but at the end of the day, this is a town-by-town decision.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Anyone can do instructional design!

In these past couple of weeks I've seen a number of articles where people talk about Instructional Design as something a laySME (layman subject matter expert) can (or can't) do.

First I saw Gina's post about whether someone should be doing ID even though they can. Gina makes some pretty interesting points about whether people should do instructional design even though they think they can. This lead straight to blog posts like Instructional design - pah, who needs it? and A “Hello World” Approach to Teaching Instructional Design. Finally, a good post was Do learners really need learning objectives?

I urge you to go out an read these posts, they are pretty interesting. Of course you come where for what I do I think?

Personally I think that anyone can do instructional design because instructional design jobs are poorly described. An Instructional Design job can be an LMS administrator, a WIMBA or Adobe Connect support person, an educational technologist or, a real honest-to-God Instructional Designer that looks at the whole process and determines if new instruction is the appropriate path and forges through to get that done.

One more reasons why many perceive that they can be an instructional designer is the dearth of theory that goes into the ID process by all of the above jobs that are lumped into instructional design. I had a blog post recently about the role of theory in ID. This is best illustrated by a comment on the Hello World post wrote:

The problem with most elearning ID’s in the market is that they don’t understand jack about learning itself. They’re more obsessed with approaches and tools than the psychology behind human learning. Starting your professional journey with elearning as the focus, is a smell in my opinion.

If more Instructional Designers had a usable theoretical background, if there weren't such a tool and approach fetish, and if jobs weren't all lumped under "instructional designer", fewer people would think that they can be an instructional designer by using eTool-X to produce some training on Y and all is great with the world.

Friday, October 9, 2009

καλαμαράς - the penpusher

I was reading a linguistics blog recently on diglossia and a cypriot Greek (or is it Greek Cypriot word? - anyway) came up. The word is Καλαμαράς (kalamaras) which in cypriot apparently is penpusher (you know, a bureaucrat).

This word is fascinating!

The root of the word is Καλαμάρι (Kalamari) - yes as in calamari/squid. Why? Because that's where ink comes from. In new years carols santa claus (saint Basil actually) brings χαρτί (paper) and καλαμάρι (pen). This is the only instance that I know of where καλαμάρι is used as the word for pen in Greek.

The suffix of the word is -ας, a person who deals with whatever the prefix is, so in this case, the person that deals with pens. I suppose that it might also mean a squid fisherman, but penpusher sounds like a better use of the word ;-)

It's amazing the things you learn!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Quack! Quack!

I was reading an article on Science Direct on Librarianship Education. I am surprised that there is such a fuss over a name - however in a profession that only accepts individuals who received their degree from an ALA-accredited institution, it makes sense.

Personally I think that librarianship, for the purposes of working in a public or academic library, is something that you don't need a Masters degree in Library (or information!) Science. You probably need a degree of some other sort to make you a Subject Matter Expert in something, but things like reference and cataloguing don't require an MLIS. A recent exchange with an MLIS colleague shows this. The comment was that this individual did not want to catalogue because it was mindless - they should hire a paraprofessional for that.

If you look at Masters level LIS work in Greece for instance you will see more theoretical work done. Work on international standards, work on theory, work on integrating non-LIS professions and work into LIS to improve the profession and access to information going forward - as far as I know this is done at the PhD level in North America.

I don't think that we can fault iSchools of Library Schools or Schools of Information Science or whatever you want to call them for the curriculum they offer. I personally would fault employers for blindly following the "ALA-accredited degree only" party line and don't actively think about what their employees should know. If there were more jobs with an "or equivalent" condition, or let me be radical and propose that all librarian jobs should should have an "or equivalent" condition, let's see who gets hired, and who does not. If Library schools see a drop in their enrollment, they will (or at least should) change their course and adapt to what the market needs.

If people with a BA/BS get the job - perhaps the BA in LIS will come back. If people with a different skillset get hired, perhaps they will think long and hard about what their curriculum should look like. - just a thought

Monday, October 5, 2009

Studies on multitasking missing the point...

A few weeks back I starred this article on my google reader. I actually found it interesting because I have been known to multitask (depending on whom you ask you may find me to be a heavy multitasker or a mild multitasker).

I found a few quotes necessitated expansion:

Perhaps what we are doing [multitasking] has nothing to do with efficiency. I don't operate the way I do with the principal goal of speeding things up. My motivations are much more complex and diffused.
[...] I am not trying to speed up how quickly I shift from one thing to another. Instead, I am involved in a stream of activities, in which other people figure prominently, either synchronously through direct discussion (a la Twitter or IM) or indirectly, through their writings and my responses

In many cases, I leave activities dangling because I don't know exactly how I feel about them. In some cases, I could resolve my feelings and take some action if I simply stopped other activities and focused solely on that activity, but in most cases that is not the case. And simply forcing myself to focus on the next thing in the activity would not lead to an acceptable or beneficial result, necessarily.

I'll stop with the quotes here so you can go read the rest ;-)

I actually found this quite intriguing. Unlike a computer that multitasks, we don't always multitask because we want to be more efficient. We multitask because we want to be in multiple activity streams - that is certainly why I multitask. If I want to really finish reading an article, or if I really want to get my term paper done, I don't multitask. I do take some mental break to check on facebook or twitter, or look at the TV guide, but I don't multitask.

Conversely, when the activities on hand aren't mission critical, and I can take my time with them, I do multitask, I do have 10 tabs open, with five different blogs and my email going. The idea there is that you are picking off what is the most interesting thing, working on that, and then moving on - or if the task doesn't hold your interest you move onto something that does.

Forcing yourself to plow through a book or article or movie that you don't enjoy just for the sake of claiming some sort of stoic or zen ability to focus on a task that isn't as interesting at that point in time does seem pretty useless to me.

What it comes back to, for me, is the "Ws" of the study.
Why are you doing the study?
What are you hoping to find out
What perspective are you approaching this from?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Abilene Christian University - One year later

I was reading this post on Inside Higher Ed, about the findings of Abilene Christian University a year after they started giving an iPod touch or iPhone to each incoming freshman. This was quite an interesting article to read - and partly because of the high success rating from both students and faculty.

I wonder how many instructional technologists and how many instructional designers they had on board to prepare for the on-slaught of course conversions (or content additions) to be able to use iPhone as an actual learning tool rather than a gimmick device.

One of my favorite tools is ProfCast - which takes PowerPoint and Keynote slides and allows you to narrate them (similar to Adobe's Presenter). The difference is that they are made into podcasts instead of streaming video files. I would take downloadable podcasts over streaming files any day of the week.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The role of theory in Instructional Design

I was reading this article a week or so ago on the role that theory plays in instructional design. Even though the study was very limited (only 7 participants, and in several different industries), I've seen similar results when working with my classmates (I should point out that this post is not meant to criticize my classmates, but to point out observations in the instructional design field as a whole)

The researchers in this study found ten themes:

  • Participant desire to use theory and report that they often do.

  • Participants expressed ambivalence toward theory (theories were “viewed as overly abstract, rigid, or complex with relatively little guidance regarding application.”)

  • The range of theories chose are “likely limited to those that practitioners know about, understand how to apply, and find useful in their work.” The researchers then suggested that “practitioners may seldom identify theories that are actually useful in their specific setting, even if a helpful theory exists.”

  • Practitioners did not distinguish between theories, models, and design processes in descriptions of their work, “possibly suggesting that – given the abstractness and complexity of many of these conceptual tools – practicing designers are offered little basis for differentiating them and may lack the ability to select ones most suitable for their purposes.”

  • Using theory as an argumentative device brings a measure of legitimacy and professional to design decisions. However, theory use was somewhat hindered by others who did not see its value. This, the researchers noted, pointed to “an interesting and often tension-filled aspect of instructional design work (i.e, the process of negotiation to arrive at a workable design plan.)”

  • Decisions are often made on the basis of intuitive judgment and practical wisdom developed over time.

Now I see these embodied in my classmates, but I don't think it's necessarily an issue with the learners, but rather the curriculum. I've certainly has a couple of classes where we've had theory, and how theory can be turned into practice, but those were probably only a couple of classes out of the whole curriculum. Most of the curriculum seems very 'practical'. I would say that in Instructional Design 80% is practice, 20% is theory, while the opposite is true in my Applied Linguistics curriculum, where we spend 80% of the time deconstructing theory and how we see it manifested in the classroom, and 20% of the time applying theory to our classroom practices.

In courses that are heavy with theory, we are also expected to do research on our own, go out there and find resources, find additional theory, see how different theories connect or contrast, and then you make up your own mind as to what works, what doesn't seem to work based on what you've experienced.

I think that theory for theory's sake is wasted time, but paying no attention to theory, and not keeping up with recent (or older!) research, and seeing how the research fits in to what you do. Like most professions, Instructional Designers need to keep abreast with what is going in the field they are in (Education) in order to keep up with developments so your skills aren't antiquated. Sure, you can learn the newest computer program, or web 2.0 doodad, however if you don't know any theory, how will you apply what you've learn with doodad-X?

The danger of just going with your gut, or practical wisdom made over time (last bullet) is that you are pigeonholing yourself to the same old practice, when in fact that practice may have been proven wrong, or there is something out there that fits your needs better than what you are using now.

I think that students in Instructional Design should be designers and researchers because what they research, what they find, directly impacts how they work.

I would be interested to see what results would be if full research on this topic were undertaken.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Heard this before...

I was reading an article recently on the Washington Post, the title of which was A Virtual Revolution Is Brewing for Colleges. Quite honestly I've heard this before, and I've been hearing this for the last ten years. Still hasn't happened.

Here's an interesting quote:
the young students of tomorrow will be growing up in an on-demand, personalized world, in which the notion of a set-term, offline, prepackaged education will seem anachronistic.

In my experience, there have been very few prepackaged classes. In all of my undergrad education we've had guidelines about what should be covered, however the classes were anything but prepackaged. We did get off syllabus, we did explore interesting tangents, and the students who were in the class did offer valuable insights.

Another interesting quote:
soon you'll see more Web sites that make it easy to take classes from a blend of different universities.

While this would be interesting, there is a problem of accreditation and making sure that each puzzle piece fits together. You can't just take some from column A and some from column B and mix them up and be able to satisfy graduation requirements. You will learn, but will you be able to satisfy graduation requirements?

Another interesting quote:
The Internet makes it harder to justify these redundancies. In the future, a handful of Soc. 101 lectures will be videotaped and taught across the United States.

This quote also makes education sound more like the prepackaged variety that the article seems to try to avoid. Quite honestly this person doesn't seem to get education. Yes lectures do go over certain themes, but lectures are not textbooks. Lecturers, or rather good lecturers, do change their material, they do bring new and fresh examples that illustrate the theory that you are learning. What's pertinent in Massachusetts may not be pertinent in Oklahoma or Texas or Maine. There are lots of state issues that come up as examples in these lectures that make the pre-taping and reuse of these materials no good.

When this happens -- be it in 10 years or 20 -- we will see a structural disintegration in the academy akin to that in newspapers now. The typical 2030 faculty will likely be a collection of adjuncts alone in their apartments, using recycled syllabuses and administering multiple-choice tests from afar.

I can't tell if this is tongue-n-cheek or what, but this sounds dystopian and industrial. Do we really want to learn this way?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Free food

With the beginning of the semester behind us, and the opening festivities almost behind us as well, this puts an end to the free food on campus. I guess we're back to "normal" now, as indicated by this PhD comic strip

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

5 Reasons Microsoft will buy Blackboard

I saw this article on Inside Higher Ed recently. It's an interesting concept, but I don't really buy into it. Blackboard it toxic at the moment. Many people who use it absolutely despise it. Microsoft already has image problems, having one more image problem is not something that they need to fix their brand.

If Microsoft were to buy Blackboard, they would probably buy them and end-of-life all current Blackboard products with the exception of Angel - that product seems to be loved by the people who use it, however this is unlikely. Many customers would probably prefer to see upgrades to BlackBoard Vista and CE to make them more intuitive rather than switch to another product altogether since there are course conversion costs (converting existing templates, training people, training faculty, troubleshooting, etc.), and if Microsoft were to kill off the troubled children of Blackboard this could compound on their existing image problems.

If Microsoft were to enter the LMS/CMS arena, I see them creating something from scratch, that ties into the Visual Studio, Windows Server, Zune, Windows Mobile arena.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I don't get #lrnchat!

It's been a while since I attended PodCamp Boston and met a lot of interesting people :-) One of those interesting people is Gina Minks (@gminks on twitter)

Gina informed me about #lrnchat, on twitter (you can find transcripts here) and I eagerly wanted to check things out. What is #lrnchat?

#lrnchat is an online chat that happens every Thursday night 8:30-10pm EST / 5:30-7pm PST over the social messaging service Twitter. Participants are people interested in the topic of learning from one another and who want to discuss how to help other people learn.

I haven't had a chance to participate in a #lrnchat session because when it's on I am generally tired. The morning following a #lrnchat session I feel as though my twitter stream has been spammed - and spammed badly. I only get one side of the conversation with some quotes that are just like "whaaaaaa?" and others that are awesome pearls of wisdom in an of themselves that can stand without context.

Now I can say with certainty that I don't get #lrnchat. I do get a gathering of like-minded individuals to exchange knowledge and information and participate in a panel like discussion, however I don't get the medium of twitter to do this. In the past, for such ventures, we used IRC chat, or yahoo chat, or some other chat service that was unencumbered by character limitations (twitter is only 140 characters) and does not pollute other people's twitter streams. I know that when Leo Laporte or other tech guys go to conventions I unfollow them on twitter because there is simply way too much noise coming from them and it drowns out the other people that post less but I am more connected to.

#lrnchat seems to me like another instance of using what's new and shiny when another 'older' technology would do just fine. I don't get #lrnchat, am I missing something?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Paying students for academic achievement

This months started off with a "show me the money" theme, both for pre-college and college level kids. First we had a story on NRP, asking whether paying for grades cheapens education, and then we had a story from Indiana University's Pressroom on their "incentive grants" for students who do well in school.

I fall somewhere in between the two positions of to pay and not to pay. When I was in school I did not get money from my parents for bringing home a good report card, however I did get certain allowances, like being able to play computer games (on my 68040 Performa - no FPU!) and being in a better bargaining position when it came to buying new video games. When I was in college it was expected that I was an adult and I was responsible enough to value the education that I was paying for.

Of course what it comes down to is this: Whether in K-12 or in College, we end up paying for education. Nothing is free. If you want to reward kids for doing well in K-12, encourage team building and not solo activities. If the whole group does well - reward them with an extra field trip per year or something along those line. Cash is ephemeral, I can blow it all on candy, but a field trip can be educational at least and the whole class can benefit. If you just dole out cash for grades at the school level you are encouraging one-up-manship. This isn't a bad thing to know how to be better at something compared to someone else, but it's more beneficial, IMHO, to help out your fellow man and learn those life lessons early on.

When it comes to college, and getting an "incentive grant" - well that is a different story. If the college is really interested in offsetting costs for college students, they shouldn't really raise tuitions and fees and then act like it's in the best interest of the student to do well in order to get money back. According to Indiana U. most of their students would qualify for this money. So, in essence this program is like those silly store rebates that you have to mail-in and wait 6-8 weeks for. Most people don't fill them out and there lies the money making aspect of this scheme.

So should students get money for grades? No they should not. However, there are other incentives that can be put in place. The world does not always revolve around cold hard cash.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What is an Instructional Designer?

I was reading Inside Higher Ed earlier this week and there was an interesting list (similar to Educause's 7-things lists) about what define a learning technologists.

Out of this list these three points are quite interesting to me, and quite possibly define my weltsanschauung with regard to educational technology and my likes at work.

We learning technologists share a healthy skepticism towards the dominant commercial CMS, Blackboard. Put another way, our relationship with Blackboard is often ambivalent. Philosophically, I think many of us are drawn to open and community source platforms and business models. There is an important conversation going on in our profession about the advantages of sticking with Blackboard as our campus CMS (which there are many), versus moving in larger numbers to an open source alternative (with Moodle getting the most traction lately). This conversation will continue to dominate our profession.

Personally it's not like I hate Blackboard, it's just that it's the Microsoft Windows of Learning Management Systems. It tries to update its image and its functionality but does so in a half-hearted attempt, with it's own proprietary way, and tries to maintain backward compatibility - this can't end well. Other solutions seem to work better for some people.

We walked a wide and varied path to arrive at our profession. While many of us received graduate degrees in instructional or learning design, just as many of us are not formally trained in the discipline. [...] From my experience it seems that the diversity in our backgrounds defines us more than our similarities. I'd also say from personal experience that those of us not trained in our discipline heavily lean on our colleagues with actual degrees in what we do to teach us the theoretical and pedagogical fundamentals necessary to do our jobs.

The diversity is what really struck me when I started the instructional design program. There isn't just one type of background for practitioners in Instructional Design, but many. This diversity helps not just at work, but also to learn things from others that you wouldn't otherwise learn.

We are generalists in an age of hyper-specialization. To thrive as a learning technologist it is necessary to work with professional colleagues across academic disciplines and with technical, library, media and other administrative colleagues of varying temperaments and expertise. We like working across our institutions, getting to know folks who are passionate experts in their specialized fields. We enjoy learning about many different things, and try to bring that enthusiasm for learning to the process of designing, developing and supporting virtual and physical learning environments.

Well, here I agree and disagree. I do consider myself a generalist when working with subject matter experts, but at the same token, I do consider myself a subject matter expert in what I studied and what I did in the past, so if I do happen to work with people in my own discipline I can actually throw a few devil's advocate questions to help them better think of what they are trying to accomplish - something which doesn't come as easy when working with SMEs from other areas - just a thought

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Learning 2.0 Strategy

I was recently reading a wrap-up post on eLearningTech, which pointed me to an older post that Tony Karrer had written. In this post Tony writes about the key aspects of Learning 2.0 (briefly summarized here):

  • Start Tactical and Bottom Up

  • Avoid the Culture Question

  • Avoid Highly Regulated Content (and Lawyers)

  • Learning Professionals Must Lead

  • Prepare Workers for Learning 2.0

  • Technology is Tactical not Strategic

  • Avoid the CIO

What's interesting about this is that this is the way that I've started building out the Instructional Design network of students and alumni (and other people involved with the Graduate Program at UMass Boston), first with Ning, then adding on a Wiki and other services that can help both students and alumni.

What I find interesting is that all the members of the community are learning professionals, or want to be learning professionals anyway, but we are still experiencing the same types of issues that any organization faces: it's a real culture change to try to get people involved and to actively contribute (some) content to any outlet of our learning community - be it a link that they share with us on delicious, a blog post on Ning, an event on the Ning calendar, a comment or discussion post, or a wiki article.

This sort of reminds me of the "I'm not good at computers" post that I had last week. Yes people do experience log-on fatigue when they have to use multiple services such as different types of social networks, different types of wikis, different types of bookmark sharing services, and a whole slew of other Web 2.0 services.

However, did most of us complain when we had to pick up four or five separate history books in that HIST205 course that helped us with our major? Do we often complain that we can't find all the resources we need in one book and we have to (gasp) use two or three other references? Maybe I am being too harsh, I don't mean to be, ( :-) ) but if we as educators don't take the reigns, who will? This is not a rhetoric question :-)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Barriers to technology accessibility a myth?

I was reading an article recently on the 5 Myths of Mobile Learning. While I somewhat agree with most of what is said, I take issue with the "Accessibility and Cost Myth"

This was perhaps one of the stranger myths I encountered, that personal mobile computing devices are inaccessible because of the inherent cost barriers. Looking around me here in India at the amazing rate of adoption of mobile devices (see Mobile Learning in India) and the availability of mobile networks capable of data that now range contiguously across India (see Networks in Rural India), its obvious cost is hardly a factor in the mobile learning equation. Phones today cost far less than they ever did, do far more and are cheaper to use because network usage charges are dropping consistently. These factors contribute to increased technology availability and subsequent adoption.

I think that it depends on what the meaning of Mobile is, and even then there are accessibility constraints. Not everyone carries around an iPod, or a phone that can play back pre-recorded audio. Not everyone carries a phone with a color screen and not everyone carries a device with them that gives them access to the internet.

While phones can be cheap (free with a subscription, or cheap with prepaid), that doesn't mean that all phones have the same capabilities. For mobile learning I would probably use something like an iPhone, S60, or Android device. Those phones do cost at least $100 and if you factor in a network connection, that would set you back another $30/month at least. Can everyone afford this? I don't think so.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Missing those firedrills


First week back to classes after a summer of classes (and lots of rain) and the beloved fire drills are back

Of course I won't be participating in te firedrills because we don't have any in the library building. I remember that as an undergraduate I loved fire drills because it got me out of class. As an employee I hated them because there was always a chance that something would go missing, and now that I haven't had a firedrills on five years I strangely find myself missing them. Odd. Very odd indeed

-- Post From My iPhone

Monday, September 7, 2009

I am no good at computers

Well the semester started and I invariably got my first "I'm sorry, I'm just no good at computers" comment from someone at work. This reminded me of a post that I saw on Dangerously Irrelevant a few weeks back. I first started hearing this a couple of years back and ever got it.

This quote from Dangerously Irrelevant was really interesting:
What does this say about us as educators? As employees of supposed learning organizations who purportedly are all about 'life-long learning?'
Is saying "I'm not very good at computers" the modern counterpart to "I'm not good at math" (both typically accompanied by a chuckle and a c'est la vie hand wave as if it didn't matter)?

Personally I've never heard of "I'm just no good at math". Granted I am not the best at math, but I still do try, and I do get a correct answer eventually. I've never had a c'est la vie attitude about not being able to do math, and I've never known anyone who has (growing up in Greece anyway). It seems rather absurd to me since we do use math everyday!

It seems equally absurd that people have the same attitude about computers since we do use computers everyday! It's not the 1970s anymore where you needed to know how to punch a card and feed it into a machine to make it work. You just point and click and BAM you're tweeting or googling something. Not all math is calculus, and not all of computer usage is low-level assembly language programming.

This reminded me of this Medieval Helpdesk video. Sure you may chuckle at it and think it's silly, after all who doesn't know how to use books? Of course if we had the same attitude about books as we do about computers and math...well...then we would probably still be using scrolls ;-)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Post-hoc versus post-doc

A little Friday humor for you all

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Media Literacy for the 21st century

Here's a nice little clip of Rheingold on Media Literacy

A quick run down of his literacies:
* Attention
* Participation
* Collaboration
* Critical consumption (aka crap detection).

OMG he said crap! Personally I would have called it Bullshit detector :-) (or is that a different category?)

21st century media literacies from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Conversation Simulation Software

While I was exploring the options for conversation simulation software (I am not that skilled with Flash so that would take WAY too long to accomplish), I came across KDSimStudio (via eLearning Learning).

I was really excited to try it out since it seemed straight forward and easy to use, and there was a demo version that I could try. The software looks nice, but I found out that it only supports roman character sets (maybe even just ASCII), so all my Greek looks like gibberish.

Too bad because I thought that this software would have been great for language education!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Google for Education

I love the phrase: Collaborating like it's 1999 :-)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What does a D stand for?

Earlier this month I was reading the sinkhole ahead blog post on Inside Higher Ed, which prompted me to read this little rant on the D written by the same author.

You know it's funny, I've been a student for quite some time now and I've never thought of the "D" much. One semester in my undergrad I just wanted to get a D in calculus II so that I can pass and move on. Calculus II wasn't required for any subsequent courses, but I had to take it and pass it, and quite honestly I felt like I was being dragged behind a bus.

In any case, what is debated is what role does D satisfy? I've always thought about the letter grade system as being things similar to my Greek Elementary school grading
A = 'Αριστο = Excellent
B = Πολύ Καλό = Very Good
C = Καλό = Satisfactory/good
D = Μέτριο = So, so (not quite fail, not quite satisfactory, needs work)
F = 0 (Zero)

Now, one of the blog posts mentions the following

D's make some level of sense if you believe the ancient fiction that a 'C' is an average grade. That hasn't been true for a long time, if ever, but if it were true, a 'D' would carry the relatively clear meaning of 'below average, but still acceptable.' Of course, if it were still acceptable, colleges would take it in transfer. But C's aren't really average, and D's aren't really accepted.

Now my way of thinking of grades, I guess, falls under this 'ancient fiction', but the way I see it is that there is a misstep between what the instructor thinks his grading system reflects and what the school's grading measures reflect. If we all graded based on a system that means the same thing to all graders things would improve. I also think that as people we've been conditioned to think of a C as bad because we are all exceptional students. Should we strive to do our best in class? Of course! Should we all expect to be the creme de la creme? We can expect it, it doesn't mean it's happening.

Now, to clear the air, I don't believe in bell curves and contrived ways of making students fit into a bell curve. If 95% of the class deserves and A and 5% deserves a D, that is how it should be graded, but a C should either be respectable (IF it means "good" or "satisfactory") or else the grading system needs to be reworked so that it actually makes sense.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Getting out of Grading - Seriously?

Earlier this month I was reading an article on Inside Higher Ed about about a Duke administrator that went back into teaching, how she found Grading so tiresome that she decided to outsource her students! Yes indeed, students in her class also graded each others papers.

This professor writes:

I can't think of a more meaningless, superficial, cynical way to evaluate learning than by assigning a grade. It turns learning (which should be a deep pleasure, setting up for a lifetime of curiosity) into a crass competition: how do I snag the highest grade for the least amount of work? how do I give the prof what she wants so I can get the A that I need for med school? That's the opposite of learning and curiosity, the opposite of everything I believe as a teacher, and is, quite frankly, a waste of my time and the students' time. There has to be a better way....

I honestly fail to see what's superficial about grading. It's not a beauty contest among the students. Each class has certain educational outcomes. As an instructor for the course you are in charge of saying whether those students have realize those educational outcomes, and if they have to what degree those outcomes have been realized. This isn't some voodoo that you perform to get a student's grade, it's based on a rubric that you make based on your intended educational outcomes!

Now there are pedagogical reasons for letting fellow classmates grade other people's papers, but that grading can't (1) be the sole grading criterion and (2) it can't be self-guided, it's gotta be based on a rubric! If you don't do this all students can sign a pact to give each other a good grade.

I've had classes where I've graded classmates on a given rubric, but that wasn't their final grade. The final grade for that particular project was 75%-80% what the teacher thought and 20%-25% what your peer evaluation said.

All things considered this professor comes off as lazy to me.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Wrath of Khan

A little Friday PhD humor for you:

I have to say that I've never been that inventive with my project names :-) I just go off swearing up a storm when something does not work ;-)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

On ESL and critical thinking - some reactions

I was reading a post titled Language learning, critical thinking and the role of the teacher on the linguist the other day and I was really surprised. Now granted I am not a member of his list-serv, perhaps I should be to get the whole story, even though ESL isn't my immediate field of interest.

Now long story short here, it appears that some people have their feathers ruffled because of the belief that critical thinking should (or should not) be included in the foreign language curriculum. Personally I think that critical thinking activities should be part of the curriculum in any language learning situation because when you are learning a language you are also learning about many other things that influence a language - such as culture, history, popular sayings, predispositions of the natives, and so on. Language is not used in a vacuum and simply learning more vocabulary doesn't mean that you will necessarily be getting more comprehensible input.

Yousef writes (in the comments)
I don't think it's outright racism, but there is certainly an element of cultural superiority and just plain smugness.

Perhaps, perhaps not. The point is that when you are learning a new language, your Weltanschauung changes, or has the potential to change. Some (bad) teachers will be smug about it. Most teachers that I've come in contact with are not smug about the way they think (critically or not). They wanted to help me and my classmates learn.

I find it funny that Steve writes
I would ask them to listen on their MP3 players as much as they can, and to try to reduce their exposure to their native language , so that the brain has a chance to develop an ability to handle English.

It is quite possible that the learners of a foreign language do not have access to playback devices like MP3 players. If all depends on the context of the language learning, the who, why, where and by whom.

I also disagree with Steve about only interacting with texts that are of interest. If you only do that, you are handicapping yourself because you aren't picking up vocabulary and grammatical structures for other situations that you will need to know about. If we all learned about topics we were predisposed to want to learn about in school, we would never be exposed to things that we may like, or that we should know. Situational language, something Steve apparently does not like, is a good springboard to other topics while grounding the learning in something concrete that people will use.

As far as the original question goes: "Is no one here just interested in improving the learners' language skills?"...well it depends on what you mean by language skills. What are your rubrics? Without rubrics how will you know how improved your learners are?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Should we abolish copyright on academic works? two cents...

I saw this on Techdirt about a month ago and it's been lingering in my Google Reader starred items ever since. I've made a good faith effort to read the original but my brain is a bit fried from this summer (and I would like to save a few braincells for the fall semester)

Here's the abstract for the paper:
The conventional rationale for copyright of written works, that copyright is needed to foster their creation, is seemingly of limited applicability to the academic domain. For in a world without copyright of academic writing, academics would still benefit from publishing in the major way that they do now, namely, from gaining scholarly esteem. Yet publishers would presumably have to impose fees on authors, because publishers would not be able to profit from reader charges. If these publication fees would be borne by academics, their incentives to publish would be reduced. But if the publication fees would usually be paid by universities or grantors, the motive of academics to publish would be unlikely to decrease (and could actually increase) – suggesting that ending academic copyright would be socially desirable in view of the broad benefits of a copyright-free world. If so, the demise of academic copyright should be achieved by a change in law, for the ‘open access’ movement that effectively seeks this objective without modification of the law faces fundamental difficulties.

Now as a student in academia my writing has been my writing. No one else could profit from it (i.e. get credit). presumably I could take the idea that I had in the classroom, that I eluded to in some paper and go out and sell it an make money.

Now there are many people out there that research, ponder, and write. They create new knowledge (or validate old hypotheses). These people get the street-cred, after all their names are on the paper that they submit and no one can take that away. But, the money gained from the purchase of that article does not go back to the original author but to the journal that printed it or made it available in some form. Working in a library I know that journal subscriptions costs A LOT of money, none of which the authors see (as far as I know).

What's funny is the fact that many academic that I know of are willing and complacent in this. They are so concerned with tenure (or getting from one level of professor to another), and their courseload that they don't seem to mind that other people are profiting from their work!

Should we abolish copyright on academic works? Yes we should. Academic work should be available in creative commons licensing schemes because academics are creating knowledge that can benefit us all. It seems unethical for people who did not contribute to the knowledge creation cycle to be heavily benefiting from the work of others and then creating a walled garden where content is only accessible to those with fat wallets.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Classes | over

Wow, classes are over!

I suppose I should pop the cork off some wine or something and celebrate - then again school starts again in a couple of weeks so it will be a short lived celebration :-)

This summer went by quite fast. I don't know if it was the crazy weather (mostly gray and rainy), or the fact that I had homework in the summer. Oh well. I still have at least three weeks of homework-free (and Blackboard-free!!!) time to enjoy the rest of the summer :-)

Hopefully this time next year I will be done with my Instructional Design degree!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Selecting an LMS

Selecting an LMS is probably not an easy thing for an organization because many different faculty probably have many different requirements for their classes. This exercise in LMS selection then becomes a balancing act between cost, ease of use, and fulfilling as many of the user requirements as possible.

Last summer, when I was taking INSDSG 619 we spoke about these issues but at a surface level since that wasn't the focus of the course. I think it would be great to offer a course on LMS selection and administration so that students can get their hands dirty with a few types of LMS before graduating. This of course would require the 800lb gorilla in the room (Blackboard) to work out a deal with the university/department to allow for cheap or free experimentation :-)

I came across this small checklist for those who are in the process of thinking of an LMS: click here. In lieu of a full course, it's good enough to get you started thinking about the issues :-)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Depth or Breath?

I was reading this on Slashdot the other day about a person going back to school to complete their computer science degree.

Here's a quick quote:

I recently went back to college to finish my CS degree, however this time I moved to a new school. My previous school taught only C++, except for a few higher level electives (OpenGL). The school I am now attending teaches what seems like every language in the book. The first two semesters are Java, and then you move to Python, C, Bash, Oracle, and Assembly. While I feel that it would be nice to get a well-rounded introduction to the programming world, I also feel that I am going to come out of school not having the expertise required in a single language to land a good job. After reading the syllabi, all the higher level classes appear to teach concepts rather than work to develop advanced techniques in a specific language. Which method of teaching is going to better provide me with the experience I need, as well as the experience an employer wants to see in a college graduate?

Now there are a ton of opinions in the slashdot article that geeks and non-geeks alike should have a look because it poses a good question about what type of education you should get. Should it be as broad as possible? Or should it be more contained but more comprehensive?

This story also brings up an interesting exchange that I had with my undergraduate advisor in computer science. My computer science program did not take the breadth approach, but rather took the more narrow approach. Yes we did learn about automata, basic and advanced algorithms, logic and so on (so all the things that are mentioned in the comments section, and all the things that every computer scientist should know) BUT we didn't do a lot of languages. We covered Java, ANSI C, and x86 Assembly, and if you took specific electives you would get PL/SQL and SmallTalk.

The problem for me was that I was not being familiarized with more languages that exist out there in the real world (like C# for example). What I failed to realize back then is that Java, C and assembly is really what you need to get started. My advisor told me that the program focuses on concepts (well duh!) and that I can learn any language I want on my own easily. The issue I had was that the languages used in the curriculum were not used a whole heck of a lot. Two semester of Java, 2 of C, and one of assembly.

Yes you need to take the bull by the horns and program you own projects and have what the Greeks call μεράκι (I guess the closest equivalent is the concept of being "jazzed about something"), but as an undergraduate with a full course load, and a job, it's not easy to fit in project just for fun.

Personally I would have preferred more familiar with more languages and then I can practice more on my own, rather than this uncomfortable in-between.

What do you think?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The point of college, and other diatribes

This past week I saw an article on the BBC and a blog post on the Brazen Careerist network that go well together - like w(h)ine and cheese. Yes, the bad pun was intended.

The BBC article centers around a woman in New York who is a jobless graduate and is suing her college because she's failed to get a job after graduation.

As the BBC reports:

She is seeking to recover $70,000 (£42,000) she spent on tuition to get her information technology degree


The ex-student, who received her degree in April, says the college's Office of Career Advancement did not provide her with the leads and career advice it had promised.

"They have not tried hard enough to help me," she wrote about the college in her lawsuit.
Her mother, Carol, said her daughter was "very angry at her situation" having "put all her faith" in her college.

On the Brazer Careerist we see yet another pointless article about Personal Branding...or rather the blogger's conviction that Colleges should teach Personal Branding. What's funny is that the blog isn't really about personal branding (whatever that is - as far as I am concerned it's a bullshit term). Rather, the blog post is about "how useless his college degree is", as he puts it in his own words

I studied one of the least practical majors at my college: Classical Languages. I learned 5th century BC Attic Greek and Latin. I read Homer and Caesar and Herodotus. I spent hours learning languages I’ll never speak in my life. If I went to Greece, I wouldn’t even be able to ask for directions to the bathroom—that’s how useless my college degree is!

and also how colleges should offer courses on how students could talk up their skills:

Students need to learn how to talk-up their skills and abilities. They need to be able to explain how spending a semester studying Spanish in a third world country translates into desirable traits for an employer. They need to learn how to brand themselves not as the “impractical English major” but as someone who really understands communicating and how to write well.

Quite honestly both the blogger and the person in the BBC article fail to realize that college isn't about cookie cutter approaches. It's not about giving you one specific skillset that you can use to get a job, but rather a number of theoretical foundations and practice that you can apply to any job. It's also not the college's job to teach you how to talk up your skills or find you a job (although that would be a nice cherry on the top).

I agree with a commenter when he says:
I disagree though that its colleges responsibility to teach how their degree applies to the real world. Transforming theoretical knowledge to real world requires good analytical brain and ability to adapt. One can't learn these skills in a classroom. They are learned over experiences in life.

Oh well...another day in academia :-)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Death by webinar

I was reading about the deadly online seminar (or death by webinar as I call it) on the cogdogbloy recently. I couldn't help but smile because it reminded me of a Death by PowerPoint presentation that I had created a couple of years ago.

I have to say that I echo all of the author's gripes about these types of webinars and it is the reason I generally hate Wimba sessions when we have them. Most Wimba sessions I've been to have been, essentially, a broadcast of information with little input or feedback from the audience (other than the "raise your hand"). It's also really hard to contribute without seeing the face of the people in the room. The paralinguistic features of communication are really marginalized in Wimba.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Digital Natives - are they really natives?

I was reading this article on Inside Higher Ed recently for a case discussion for one of my classes centered around Dr. iCranky. It is a pretty interesting article, and what's more there are some pretty interesting comments.

Boiling the Dr. Cranky's letter down, it's about faculty forced to adopt new shiny technology in the name of Millenials (aka digital natives), the new type of student filling the lecture halls and faculty better get on board.

I also read this article on first monday. Here's the abstract:

Educational technology advocates claim today’s students are technologically savvy content creators and consumers whose mindset differs from previous generations. The digital native-digital immigrant metaphor has been used to make a distinction between those with technology skills and those without. Metaphors such as this one are useful when having initial conversations about an emerging phenomenon, but over time, they become inaccurate and dangerous. Thus, this paper proposes a new metaphor, the digital melting pot, which supports the idea of integrating rather than segregating the natives and the immigrants.

I think both of these articles go together. I've seen a lot of students cross my path, for different generations. People who would fall into the digital natives category know their way around MySpace and Facebook, but when it comes to academic computing they don't know that much and what's more, they don't have the tools to figure it out on their own. I think equating knowledge of one service with broad knowledge of computers and troubleshooting is flawed.

As a side issue, I think that people come to school to learn things that they don't know. While some academic technology can help students, it is important to acclimate students into an environment that they don't know much about. They should know how to use paper based resources to do their work. They should be taught how to be both cyber-sleuths and real-life sleuths when seeking information. And, they should be taught how to be troubleshooters when things don't go well with technology.

I also think that this argument of digital natives neglects to mention people who cannot afford to be brought up in the warm embrace of technology. I've met many people, both locals and from abroad, that never grew up with a computer, they just know basic email and word processing and that's it (if that!) and they are part of the generation that we call Millenials (aka digital natives)