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.