Monday, March 30, 2009

The community manager - every online program should have one

I came across this article recently on Community Managers.

For the past year or so, ever since I created a Ning community for the Instructional Design program, and helped/consulted on the creation of a Community for the Applied Linguistics online program, I've been advocating for a community manager for all online programs.

What I've noticed is that there is a void in-between semesters, especially for students who are all over the world, but happen to be a student in our Online Programs. During the semester they've got access to Blackboard and they get to "see" their classmates again, and meet new ones. In between semesters they lose contact, unless they happen to have people on LinkedIn or Facebook (or old school email) or something along those lines.

This was an interesting quote:

Look at how difficult it is to maintain a clear line between LinkedIn and Facebook contacts. Even though many of us use the former for business and the latter for more personal communications, few are able to maintain two distinct groups of contacts. These lines will continue to blur (e.g. Twitter) and our online identities will be a composite of activities in several communities / teams / groups / networks.

The effective community manager will be less of a manager and more a well-connected node in many networks of importance to the organization. David Wilkins takes this a step further and says that the entire business should be run as a community:

"It’s not about customer communities or workplace communties (sic). It’s about recognizing and fostering connections, and enabling information flow and information capture from multiple constituents."

My thought is that each program should have a community manager. In higher education, my definition of a Community Manager is as follows:

Someone who creates a Community of Practice (CoP), fosters connections between students, alumni, faculty, other CoPs and the academic department and enables the information flow and information capture from all of the aforementioned stakeholders.

This community manager (CM) for example will enable timely announcements to the students, provide a place for students to talk and express their views, or organize their own ad-hoc events. The CM enables alumni to network, share information resources, and is a link back to the campus for both alumni and online students who may come to campus once in a blue moon. In order for this to be done correctly, it is a full time job. I guess a CM is part techie, part educator, part advocate, part marketer and all around people person.

Each online program (and Hybrid programs as well) should have one.

Friday, March 27, 2009

13 reasons why Higher Ed is a mess

I came across this article on the Chronicle of Higher Ed recently. It was an interesting read. I can't really speak to the financial information they give because I am not involved in that area of university management. I did however have a couple of comments on other topics...

Millions of workers have lost their jobs in recent months. But tenured professors are hard to fire. And some powerful faculty unions have resisted when colleges asked their members to teach more classes, despite what seemed like reasonable requests.

The faculty union at Kean University, for example, balked last year when administrators tried to require professors to teach on Fridays and some Saturdays. The public university, located in New Jersey, was facing a $4.5-million cut in the state's contribution and was trying to get more use out of classroom buildings.

Faculty members considered the proposal an assault on their autonomy and a retaliation for a previous squabble with administrators. Since then Kean has postponed several construction projects and raised in-state tuition by about 8 percent.

I think that this is a fundamental mismatch between what faculty are expected to do, and what they were asked to do in this situation. The culture in higher education promotes research and it places less emphasis on teaching. This is why the whole publish or perish conundrum exists. If a faculty member does not publish, they don't get to stick around and get tenure.

Even after faculty get tenure, their merit pay, and overall increases in salary are gauged by how much they publish. Yes good classroom evaluations are weighed in too, but research and publishing is where the minds and hearts of the faculty are. By asking them to take on greater courseloads, and/or come in on weekends to get greater utilization of physical facilities, you are impeding their ability to publish. For some it's a money issue, for others it's an ego issue. You can't foster one type of culture for a long period of time and then expect people to pull a U-turn on demand!

This is why I favor teaching faculty and research faculty. Research faculty would be people who get tenure, and get job evaluations based on the research they do, and less on their teaching. So the ratio of research to teaching would be 70/30 or 80/20. Teaching faculty would be the opposite. Their main purpose to would be to teach, so they could take on a greater courseload each semester, and they can choose to research if they want to. In this scenario people could work in pairs or groups. Research faculty could pair up with teaching faculty to help out with the research, and then that research can get translated down to the classroom level for the benefit of the students.

More colleges are finally waking up to a well-known reality: Politics is the art of compromise. The University of Arizona hopes to appease state lawmakers by consolidating more than a dozen colleges and eliminating dozens of majors that produce few graduates. The university has also assembled a team of economists and policy experts to present budget alternatives to lawmakers.

Consolidation of Colleges of fine by me. Elimination of majors is not! I can understand that if you consolidate ten colleges, and each one has a Political Science major, but only five have enough graduates, then you can eliminate the political science majors in the five colleges that don't have enough graduates and then encourage people at those colleges to attend classes at colleges that have political science either face to face or online. Your institution can still offer those majors (after all, you did consolidate!), you just don't have that facility on your local campus.

So that's my 2 cents on this article.

Thoughts? Comments?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Creation of a Thesis

Here's some PhD humor for all of you out there coming back from Spring Break

Monday, March 23, 2009

Credit Crisis - Visualized

This is simply a great video to watch on the hows and the whys to the current credit crisis. The visuals, the setup, and the explanations are great in my opinion.

Have a look - it's only 11 minutes. I would say that this is a good intro video for intro to finance classes.

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

NY to Collect Sales Tax on Distance Education Courses...

...well it depends on what you mean by "Education"

I was reading the UMassOnlineBlog the other day and I saw this article by a guest blogger. I thought to myself seriously? They are going to tax education? It drew me in, until I read that it wasn't really about Distance Education...

The relevant piece of information here is this:

The department asserts that an e-course offered by SkillSoft Corporation, a New Hampshire-based company, should be subject to sales tax as “software” purchased by the student.

So at this point I stopped being alarmed. It's not distance education, It's SkillSoft! There is no instructor involved in SkillSoft courses (at least not the ones we had at my workplace). NY is not going to tax people taking real online courses with instructors and grades and projects.

Now I am not saying that SkillSoft isn't educational. What I am saying is that in my opinion SkillSoft doesn't count as Distance Education. Someone commented back on the blog and said that it's a slippery slope. I respectfully disagree.

Take the following products:
A Book: Teach Yourself Spanish Complete Course

Software: Rosetta Stone Spanish (Latin America)

Video: Professor Teaches Office 2007

Now can all of these be educational? Of course! Are all these taxed? You betcha! What makes SkillSoft different? The answer is: Absolutely Nothing. SkillSoft is a product. An educational product, but a product none the less. Education is a service. People who seek higher education (through a BA or an MA, through face to face or online means) are seeking a service.

Now truth be told, I would not want to pay tax on my language learning products, or on books that contain the thoughts of major philosophers, but if I head to Barnes and Noble I will pay the tax. Same should hold true for SkillPort.

If any state wants to tax accredited higher education (whether online or face to face), then let's sound the alarm bells ;-)


Friday, March 20, 2009

Library-IT Mergers in Academic Institutions

I came across this NERCOMP presentation a week or so ago, but I only got to go through it the other day. All I can say is that I wish that I had been able to attend the NERCOMP conference and this presentation in general because it's a project that I've been involved with at my campus.

No, my campus still maintains a separate library and IT group, however as a Management student I've worked on proposals for the Merger of the IT and the Library group and I've been an advocate for this merger for the last three or four years.

While I was doing my MBA, my team and I did an analysis of the (then) current conditions in our IT department and in our Library and we came up with a proposal to merge the two departments. The main idea was that it would:

(1) Save money;
(2) Make information services easier to access;
(3) Better reallocate resources on campus.

After all, both the IT department and the library deal with Information Resources. It doesn't matter if that information resource is a slide (you remember those 35mm slides in art class, don't you?), a paper newspaper, an electronic journal, help with the LMS or your email account, or just a place to go and print out your midterm.

A year later, once I had graduated from the MBA and I was a student in the MSIT program, my team and I (mock) project managed a small part of this merger with IT. The whole project is gargantuan in scope and to just change the reporting lines isn't a merger. The two departments need to work synergistically (shudder at the business jargon) in order to come to a new level of better customer service and efficient work in the back end (i.e. save money)

Anyway, I always love seeing similar projects and how they've worked out. It gives me ideas for the third iteration of this project at my campus - maybe I'll work on it as a PhD project ;-)


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

When is a language dead?

I was catching up on my Omniglot Blog unread posts and I came across this post asking people When is a language dead? This whole discussion come up because Manx was declared as a dead language even though there are still speakers of the language.

The range of opinions posted in the comments was quite interesting, and it serves to point out there is not consensus on when a language is dead, or in some cases rather remains dead.

View 1: A language is dead when there are are no monolingual speakers of that language.
I find this line of logic to be wrong. Back when movement across country lines and continents meant long journeys, often expensive, this may have been a good indicator because a lot of people were monolingual. In these days bilingualism (or multilingualism) is the norm. In areas where there is a common language, or history of subjugation, its common to find the language of the conqueror taught first and then the native language. As we move into a more connected world, monolingualism will be more or less a thing of the past, or for countries like the US who are so vast that they do not see the reason to learn a foreign language.

View 2: A language is dead, even if it can be revived, it's still dead because it's no longer used or pronounced in the same way as it was before (example: ancient Greek, and Latin). What I find interesting about this argument is that English itself has evolved. We don't consider middle English or Old English dead, we just consider them as older forms of the language we use now. In addition, English had the "great vowel shift" which changed how things were pronounced. Does this mean that that English is dead and the one that we speak now is not? I see language as a continuum, and I think most linguists do as well. I don't think that there are hard cut off periods or incidents when a language is considered dead.

In my opinion a language is dead when no one speaks it any longer and there is no way to get it back because no one has recorded it. So long as there are records of a language and there is a concerted effort to revive it and get people speaking it, a language that was dead can be revived. The issue of convenience or "why are we learning X when we can just as well use English" is a whole other issue.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cultural Perspectives

This semester I am taking two culture related courses. One is about the overall view of culture and how it intersects with the axes of language, power-relations, race relations, historical relations and so on. The other course is all about how one goes about the task of integrating the culture of a foreign country (or group of people) when you are teaching the language of that country or group.

One of the elements that has come up is that each person, and each culture, are in fact shaped by various socio-economic-political-historical (and more) powers that are in effects in the regions where they grew up, where their parents grew up, their friends, families and coworkers. Within this shaping we have the creation of artifacts that are relevant to that culture.

Now snap forward to regular life outside the classroom. I was catching up on my reading of the FAIL blog, and I saw this image (you need to follow the link since it may not be appropriate for work).

This is a picture of a road sign. On the left hand side there is a drawing. I looked at the drawing and it kinda looked like a phallus with a hand on it, and a "NO" sign superimposed. I thought to myself that this couldn't possibly be a phallus. I looked at the text next to the warning and it said "Strictly no wanking during work hours". Waaaaaa? Is this for real?

If anyone knows (or has theories) as to how this sign came to be I would be really interested in learning about the cultural background.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What should ID be?

I came across a blog post entitled The Great ID Debate the other day. I actually found it quite interesting to read.

I found the last three paragraphs quite poignant:

Think about it - these days a good ID needs to be able to write instructional objective. Conduct a content analysis. And an audience analysis. Measure job/performance outcomes. Write a criterion referenced test Create a shared collaborative experience and measure its impact. Script a simulation. Create Camtasia movies. Know a .swf from a .flv. Produce a virtual webinar on any number of web platforms. Develop a website. Administer a blog. Program in Actionscript 3. Administer an LMS or two or three. Metatag your content so that everyone in your organization can find it. Create a video and post it to YouTube. Write a report. Evaluate the impact of a performance support initiative in your workplace. Manage a project. Handle a budget. Fix the copier. Trouble-shoot the network....

With all due respect to the university faculty who have taught each and every one of us how to be instructional designers....very few faculty types have ever had to actually produce learning content for a living. With all due respect to the greater minds among us, sometimes the trick of ID is not coming up with the most unique, creative, forward-thinking, innovative response to a learning problem or opportunity. Sometimes a repeatable, scalable approach to solving a performance problem for the greatest number of people at the least amount of cost really IS the best answer.

So...what to YOU think and ID should be able to do? Are we technologists? pyschologists? evaluators? programmers? DO we need business skills? theoretical cognitive skills? IT skills? Are we artists or engineers or a little of everything in-between?

What IS an instructional designer? What should an instructional designer be able to do? Let's say that this instructional designer just finished their Masters degree. I think this is a good question to ask because it points to a general disconnect that I've seen in many fields between hiring processes, job requirements and the insistence of a certain degree.

Now as a student, while it is important for me to learn something about the technology aspect, I think it's more important to learn about the psychology and the educational theory aspects in Instructional Design. Technology comes and goes, those aspects are (somewhat) universally applicable in my opinion. To require someone to be a programmer, a technologist, an evaluator a business guru and ten other things really means that you want a jack of all trades (therefore a master of none).

If you need an LMS administrator - you don't need an instructional designer. If you need a project manager, you don't need an instructional designer. If you need an animator, you don't need an instructional designer. Now if an instructional designer can competently do more than one thing that is great, but you shouldn't expect your Instructional Designer to have all those aforementioned qualities. It's like expecting all subject matter experts to be instructional designers as well. Some may be, but it's generally not true of the whole class.

What do you think?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The value of assessment

I meant to comment on this blog post and the associated news story a while back but I didn't get a chance until now.

I think that in the blog post Assessment is confused with Grading based on this comment:
It was not his job, as he explained later, to rank their skills for future employers, or train them to be “information transfer machines,” regurgitating facts on demand. Released from the pressure to ace the test, they would become “scientists, not automatons,” he reasoned.

These concepts are not the same thing!

Assessment is what you do to verify that students do indeed have understood and are able to apply what you've been trying to teach them. There are of course different levels of understanding, and this is where there is some attempt to overlap with Grading systems. The instrument used in this process of attempting to match the level of understanding and application to a Grade is a rubric (I dislike this word by the way).

Yes, grades can be arbitrary, and trying to boil learning down to a rubric doesn't always work, however I really disagree with just giving everyone an A+. It disincentivizes them from participating and learning in the class.

An approach used by one of my professors was to tells us that just by entering the class, we all had an A. It was now our duty to maintain that A throughout the semester by doing the work and proving that we understood the material and were able to apply it in our fields. I don't think this is necessary the best approach, but it is certainly better than giving a carte blance to students to do whatever work they feel like and still get an A+.

Monday, March 9, 2009

History of the Internet

Here's and interesting (short) animated documentary on the history of the internet.

For most geeks among us this is common knowledge, but it's a good video to get those among us who don't know much about the origins of the internet up to speed :-)

I think this would have been useful as an instructional video at the beginning of our class on business networking (a class for MBA student to understand the IT back end of computer networking. It can be used both as an icebreaker and an introduction to the history and concepts before getting into the nitty-gritty of networks and network management.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

What is "good writing"

I came across this article the other day on the issue of Good Writing.

While I do believe that most people skim read, is this a good thing or a bad thing? Should we really be teaching people to write for skim readers?

In my opinion, good writing in contextual. Good writing for the web, is not necessarily good writing for a business journal, which is not necessarily good writing for a research report in one of the humanities fields.

In my personal experience, the Discourse that I use, whether spoken or written, depends on the context. What I used as documentation in my coding days would not pass as good business writing. Good business writing would not cut it in my linguistics classes, and the analytical writing from my linguistics classes does not fit with writing for instruction and training in my Education classes.

I think that the one thing that writing manuals teach us (you know APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) is that it really depends who your audience is that determines if the writing is good or not.

Monday, March 2, 2009

This blog is an INTJ

It seems odd that you could analyze a blog as a personality type, but I suppose word analysis and construction of ideas could be computed in an algorythm.

Typealyzer does an MBTI test for blogs. According to it, this blog is an INTJ (which kinda goes along with my personality).

This is their description of this blog.

The long-range thinking and individualistic type. They are especially good at looking at almost anything and figuring out a way of improving it - often with a highly creative and imaginative touch. They are intellectually curious and daring, but might be physically hesitant to try new things.

The Scientists enjoy theoretical work that allows them to use their strong minds and bold creativity. Since they tend to be so abstract and theoretical in their communication they often have a problem communicating their visions to other people and need to learn patience and use concrete examples. Since they are extremely good at concentrating they often have no trouble working alone.

An the obligatory picture of the INTJ brain: