Thursday, February 23, 2012

Academic Rigor Exposed

I was reading Jenny's post the other day on What is Academic Rigor and it got me to question my own conceptions of academic rigor.  I think many academics treat rigor just like supreme court judges treat pornography: They know it when they see it. I too have been guilty of not defining rigor, and just saying "oh that's not rigorous" when I recognize that something isn't rigorous (or at least I mentally categorize it as so). Some of the participants in the synchronous session that I didn't attend had their own conceptions of what rigor is (via Jenny's blog):
  • not for the faint-hearted; takes effort and commitment (Tom Reeves)
  • unchanging, in the sense that ‘rigorous’ means performing the same (type of) study every time, conforming to the same (set of) principles etc. (Stephen Downes)
  • more likely to lead to the truth (but what is truth?) (Stephen Downes)
  • disciplined, measurable, stands up to scrutiny by others (brainysmurf)
  • can replicate the methods (Tom Reeves)

When I speak of academic rigor, I am not talking about research, but rather what happens in the classroom. The question to answer here is: What is an academically rigorous classroom?  
The question has come up many times in the past, in many programs that I have been involved in. Sometimes the question is framed in an oppositional manner with face-to-face being pitted against online. Other times it's comparing two classes in the same program.

In interrogating my own thoughts and feelings about non-rigorous classes, I have come to the conclusion that to me non-rigorous means that students aren't set up for the long term. They are learning a skill, or picking up a piece of knowledge that has an expiration date (whether you know it or not).  A course that is academically rigorous sets students up to be able to interrogate their own assumptions, to continue to interrogate their own assumptions and previous knowledge when they leave the classroom, and to be able to be life long learners after they leave the classroom and they graduate from their program of study.

The same course can be rigorous or non-rigorous.  For example, if I am taking a course in design theory (any design theory), the non-rigorous approach would be to test students with multiple choice tests, and maybe short answers after lots of long lectures.  A potential rigorous approach would be to have students work on papers, position papers, or semester projects where the knowledge that they have gained can be synthesized with other knowledge, and students are expected to demonstrate that they can apply and extend the stuff they learned in class.

Even then, though, some people may read those final papers and say "this isn't rigorous," so I guess we're back to "I know it when I see it..."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Old Office

Nothing really dies on the internet :-)  Sometimes that is a bad thing, sometimes it's a good thing!
A few years back, I had wanted to join a social network (like MySpace and Facebook) but where the language was Greek.  I discovered a few like Zuni (facebook-like in that it was only for college students at the time, it's now defunct), and fatsa (Greek for "face" or rather "mug"). Fatsa never really did it for me because it was a bit like the TV show "Jersey Shore." Despite the fact that I have told this network numerous times to remove my profile, it's still there.  Well, lucky me, because this is one place I had put that photo I had mentioned in my previous post - the old office, affectionately known as the bat cave.

Thinking pose, in half-tone, circa 2003, alpha version

Monday, February 20, 2012

Educational Research: Rigor AND Relevance?

I was reading a post that I came across on Change MOOC this last week, the title was Can Educational Research be both Rigorous and Relevant? This article was an interesting read for both people who are researchers and people who are practitioners. The main theme of the article is that research articles have been rigorous enough to pass peer-review but they haven't necessarily had an impact; and at the end of the day impact is what matters.

In general, I agree with the overall tones of the article. We do see a lot of research published these days - the article cites something like 1300 (approx.) education related journals in existence, and even if they had just one issue per year (which most don't) that's a lot of reading. The other figure that really stuck with me was that only 40% of those articles tend to get cited in other subsequent publications.

Two things come to mind here. While it is true that not all articles don't get cited, at least not right away, that doesn't mean that they aren't valuable to someone. Looking at my own citation index on Google Scholar I can see a big fat zero in terms of who's cited my articles. At the same time, I know that there are people who have used my articles, but their work doesn't require citation (at least in any way that citation counting services measure). I am also a young scholar, which means that I probably won't have much (if any) citations anytime soon. That doesn't discourage me from research and publishing on my own, and with the MRT.

The other thing that comes to mind is teacher, and professional preparation. It has been my experience that teacher prep, and even professional instructional designer preparation has been mostly a review of selected works that count as canon for that profession. Students aren't always encouraged to think outside the box (at least as far as the literature goes) and aren't encouraged to critique and think about the literature in a critical fashion. Once people graduate that also tends to be the end of their learning from research and access to research in many cases.

If we want research to have impact we ought to encourage our educational professionals to not just attend trainings and workshops for professional development points, but also encourage them to start looking at the research literature on their own and seeing what can apply to their own classrooms and environments. It's only through this that we will get more impact from our research literature. Our current model of waiting for certain gate-keepers (i.e. the people that train educational professionals in workshops and higher education classrooms) isn't working.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Quick thoughts on IEML week

I don't follow the main presenters much on Change11 any more, partly because of the gaps in the schedule, and partly because some things seem like repetitions of previous topics...and partly because I started a new job and have little time.  I do however follow the daily newsletter and when I see posts from people that I've interacted with in the past, like Jenny, Jupidu, Jaap and Serena I put them on my reading list.  This week Jupidu's and Serena's posts piqued my interest in IEML.

Initially I didn't really want to deal with a semantic meta language for the web.  I've been hearing about the "semantic web" for quite some time now, and (honestly) I am getting a bit fatigued by it. Having read the quick overviews I decided to go in and read the chapters provided by Pierre Levy. I have to say that it is quite interesting.  Semantics isn't really my thing - don't get me wrong, I would like to like semantics (I find the study of semantics fascinating) but I haven't had enough exposure to be fully conversant in it.  The second chapter dealt more with topics that I have worked on before, including information organization, librarianship and knowledge management.  Chapter 3 I will be reading this weekend (and after that maybe read some of this week's Change11 stuff).

There is one problem, I see, with the current state of classifications: they need to be learned and applied. Folksonomies change - I mean look at my change11 posts.  My initial inclination was to use ChangeMOOC as the tag for my posts, until I realized that gRSShopper wasn't picking up ChangeMOOC and I needed to write #Change11 as the tag. For a time frame I used both, and now I just use the one that gRSShopper picks up. Folksonomies adapt, but taxonomies need to be learned and applied and people generally don't often want to do that unless they are professionals in records/information management and it's their job to do so (do I as a blogger want to categorize all my blog posts to a "t"? not really - I do just enough to get by).  Machine translation is still imperfect, so asking machines to auto-classify is not going to yield good results - so where do we go from here?

I don't disagree that a meta-language, some classification universals, can't be beneficial to all of us, but who does it? What's the "benefit"? and how do you prevent junk classifications, #like #the #people #who #hashtag #every #single #word #in #their #twitter #post ? - just some thoughts :-)

Friday, February 17, 2012

The New Office

This past week I've been trying like a mad man to find a photo that I took in 2005, using Photo Booth on MacOS 10.4 when it first came out.  At the time, I was employed by Media Services and worked with a great group of people.  Alas, my office was reminiscent of the Batcave. Despite being on the first floor there were no windows, the fluorescent lighting felt piercing to the eye (so I had some spotlights strategically placed in the office) so my office was a perfect candidate for a painting using chiaroscuro. It was also cold (year round!) a bit damp (not great for the media playback equipment that I had stored there) and the air quality was questionable.  This was the background of that photo.A few months after that photo was taken I switched jobs and went to another building.

This week (six years later) I am back in that old building, in a new job, but this time I am on the sixth floor (all the way up!), with a window that provides natural light, a private office that's not a storage area and temperature that's not in either extreme.  I thought of taking that old photo (done in halftone) and setting the photo frame to be the same as my old office  - amazingly the furnishings in the office are the same as my old office on the first floor so this compare and contrast works well.  Alas, I have yet to find the photo, so I have recreated the shot from memory.  Stay tuned for an "old office" post at some point :)

Yes, I do the thinking pose a lot...

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sensemaking in a MOOC

I had come across Jupidu's post on Sensemaking in a MOOC a while back, but I haven't had much time to respond to it just yet (until now I guess ;-)  ).  I was actually thinking of my participation in MOOCs in general; as well as the two MOOCs I am now participating in - those being Change11 and DS106.  I was actually thinking of points 1, 2, 4 and 5 in specifically and I thought I would do a bit of compare and contrast between the two:

  • Sensemaking works around identity creation – in every environment f2f or virtual I’m building my identity and this “self” is in continuous interaction with the environment and with the other learners as well.
  • Sensemaking works retrospective – I’m making sense out of experiences reflecting about them, as I’m doing it now with this article I want to write. And therefore sensemaking is influenced by my memory of situations.
  • Sensemaking is social – of course it is in the Mooc! I’m a kind of aware of some the learners who participate in the Mooc, who write in their blogs, twitter, discuss, think about the questions of the experts, reflect the online sessions, relate the inputs to their daily work, comment their ideas, …
  • Sensemaking is ongoing - yes, of course, we are in the middle of something, reinventing learning, cooperating … and at the moment we don’t know how this Mooc actually works – and we, all the Mooc participants try to make their individuell “sense” out of the Mooc

Even though DS106 does have a wonderful WordPress based community, I tend to not go on there as much to see what my fellow students are up to.  Part of this is a function of time - I don't have a lot of it, and the daily email recap that I get from Change11 does give me the headlines and I can pursue things in depth from there if I wish (this is in-fact how I found jupidu's post).  This mechanic influences how social I am.  While the DS106 tag does make my post harvestable by the DS106 elves that work in the background, it doesn't necessarily mean that I will be going to the site as often, which means I tend to be less social (than I should).  This means that, for me, DS106, sense-making is less social and more of a solitary activity.  Sure, there is some social element, but not as much as MobiMOOC, Change11, and CCK11 for example.

Sense-making is retrospective indeed, in more ways than one!  For example, looking at DS106 assignments, I find that there are quite a few of them that I've done in the past just by experimenting, but I didn't know that it was digital storytelling at that point.  It's a great opportunity to go back, pull some of those projects (or candid shots) and tell a story around them - a "making of" type of thing and perhaps how I've grown and learned more since then.

I guess, in the end, my sense-making in a MOOC works on a MOOC-by-MOOC basis.  While the underlying mechanisms may be the same, they act differently depending on what sort of situation I am in :-)

Friday, February 10, 2012

INSDSG 697 - Video Introduction

My video introduction to the research methods course (for instructional designers) that I am teaching this semester came in.  Yay!  Even though I think I could have benefited from some make-up, the video came out pretty good.  (if the embedded player isn't working, here is the direct link to the video introduction)

Blackboard SP8 coming soon

While I am not the biggest of Blackboard cheerleaders, using Blackboard Coursesites (with Mobile Learn enabled!) has really had a big influence in changing my perceptions of how good blackboard can be. Our evaluation instance this past summer, due in large part to our migrated courses looking like a truck ran over them, didn't inspire confidence, but my usage of coursesites over the past nine months makes videos like these give me a warm and fuzzy feeling (as both an instructional designer and an instructor).

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Elmo's lonely

A couple of years back I was taking a lunch-time walk around the harbor walk which goes by my university campus. In the summer I walk every day (3-5 miles) at lunch time, but when the weather gets colder I tend to cut back. In any case, this was taken in the fall, it was a bit chilly and drizzling (not a big deal) and there he was, Elmo, abandoned (there are condos nearby so some kid probably forgot him).  I also saw this as a perfect opportunity to mess around with a free photo app that I had gotten for my iPhone.    I think the grayness really does bring out how bad the weather was (no one else was around outside) and a generally jovial toy monster is longing for his owner to come back and get him.   

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Blackboard Mobile wishlist

This is my first semester teaching (yay!) and since we're eventually migrating to Blackboard Lean 9 on my campus I've decided to be part of a pre-pilot using Coursesites (fantastic and free service, by the way, if you are looking for a free LMS).

One of the perks of coursesites, that briefly was taken away from us last year but is now back, is access to Blackboard Mobile on iOS, Android and Blackberry (hopefully a windows phone version soon?).  In any case, since I don't have a computer at home that I regularly have access to, I tend to use my iPad and Blackboard Mobile to keep on top of things.  While Bb Mobile is a great app, it does have a few shortcomings that I hope Blackboard addresses in the near future.  Some of it is (or should be) easy to implement, while other things might need a little more work on the back end to make feasible.  So here is my laundry list:

What's New and Due
This is a great feature of Bb Learn - it essentially gives you (student and instructors) the ability to see what's new in the course you are taking (or teaching).  Announcements, calendar items, tasks to-do, as well as new discussion board forums, new assignments, and new content are easily available in a new dashboard format.  In Bb Learn however you are just given a "view in browser" link.  Now while the iPad may be OK the iPhone and other narrow screen devices are not.  It should be easy for Blackboard (Bb from here on out) to make this data easily accessible and format it for the appropriate display. It shouldn't be a "view in browser" feature, but rather should be integrated into the app.

Attachments (dropbox integration):
The nice thing (at least on iOS) is that in discussion posts (and I assume blogs and journals) you're able to add attachments to your posts.  The only problem is that the only type of attachment you can have up to now is a photo, which is pretty limiting.  If I had dropbox integration I'd be able to attach documents that I have on my dropbox into my blackboard course so that my students could use them.  Or, if I were a student, I could submit a paper that I have stored on dropbox for a course assignment.

Course wiki, Messages & Live Classroom:
Nice features, but they suffer from the "view in browser" issue that What's New and Due suffers from.  This needs to be addressed.  In addition, Live classroom is based on Blackboard connect (formerly Elluminate) which means that you need Java to run things. There needs to be some sort of iOS client for these types of synchronous conferencing tools.

Assignments, and Grading:
Assignments suffer from the "view in browser" issue that What's New and Due suffers from, obviously there needs to be something native for mobile to access and submit assignments, preferably with some sort of Dropbox integration so that students can submit their assignments via mobile.  There are a number of word processing (and note taking) apps that leverage dropbox on iOS as their storage mechanism, so it would make sense for Bb mobile to be able to pull files from dropbox as valid items for submissions.
Grading is not an available option on mobile.  Canvas (a competitor LMS) has a nice app (SpeedGrader) that allows you to log into your course, see what's submitted, annotate it, comment on it, and grade it, all from the comfort of your iPad.  With apps like GoodReader having shown us that is it possible to annotate, save and re-sync PDFs into your online storage location of choice (and with Canvas' precedent), I don't see why there aren't any instructor friendly options in Bb mobile.  Now granted, it's early in the semester and papers haven't come in yet (give it another month), but it would be nice to know that I don't need to go to a desktop to receive papers, annotate them, and send them back to students with their grades. This stuff should be seamless on a tablet :-)

Discussions, Groups & Assignments (creation):
Not doable on Bb mobile, you do get the "view in browser" option which does work remarkably well, however it would be nice to get some native functionality to create new discussions while on mobile (something that doesn't require opening a browser window), creating a new assignment, and creating groups on the go.  It seems like Bb mobile has been created with course management in mind (at least to some extent) once all the hard work of setting up the course has already been done through a desktop/full browser client.  It would be nice to see some of that functionality trickle down to the tablet (without having to squint at the screen) :-)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

On Web 2 and CC

I haven't yet read the Web 2.0 Storytelling chapter on DS106 - I've skimmed through it and it looks pretty interesting -I think it's going to go on my spring break reading list (so sometime in March).  I did however (quickly) go over the O'Reily "what is Web 2.0" and the educause 7 things of Creative Commons (which admittedly I have read before but not in a long time).

My main thought about Web 2.0 is that we ought to not be calling it "Web 2.0" but rather just call it "the web."  Perhaps back in the early to mid 2000s when this stuff was new it was useful to differentiate how the "old' web was different from the "new" web.  The new web however has been with us for quite some time now, so it's no longer new.  As a matter of fact any newness is iterative, a "Web 2.0.010" if you will. We don't pay attention to iterations (no matter how amazing they are) we just use them - so why fixate on the "two point oh" part?  To be clear, I am not bashing O'reilly, but rather I am making a general commentary on our internet using society and how we've latched on to "two point oh".

This reminds me of a parallel in consumer electronics.  The iPad 2 is no longer called "the iPad 2", but rather it's called the iPad.  Back in 2007 I was listening to a podcast on video games.  Up to that point they referred to the XBOX 360, Playstation 3 and Wii as "next generation consoles", but those devices had already been to market for 2 or more years, so the hosts of this podcast (correctly) pondered when does one stop calling something "next gen" when it is so obviously "current gen".  Next gen (and by extension "two point oh") mean something new, something that wasn't the case before.  "Two point oh" has become current gen, and it's time to just take it as the norm :-)

As far as creative commons goes I love the concept. More people, especially academics, need to be releasing their work as creative commons.  I released my Master's capstone project under a CC license with the hope that other language teachers (of the Greek language) would use it as a template and expand on it to create new college level curriculum.  Having knowledge (and items of cultural significance) stuck behind a copyright wall is a travesty.

I was reading an article on the technologizer the other day, on why history needs piracy, which made some pretty valid points - not that piracy is good, but rather that anti-piracy laws and crazy copyright are preventing the archiving and preservation of important cultural works (namely computer software).  If more people released their works under CC, or if companies took copyrighted materials that they have obviously abandoned because they are not economically viable, and released them under a CC license those things would be saved and experienced by future generations (or the current generation that didn't have the privileged position to experience them in the first place).

Of course, having said that, change is hard, and existing structures are not easy to break away from unless you are really determined and unless others are right there with you, supporting you and acting ina similar manner :-)

Friday, February 3, 2012

9 Academic Freedoms of non-tenure: a rebuttal

I don't often read Inside Higher Education these days. I used to gobble it up, but I've found that a lot of the content seems to be off-base opinion (and when there is real news, the RSS feed doesn't give you anything but the title, so I refuse to take that bait - give me at least some content).

In any case, I came across a blog post by Joshua Kim the other day with the topic of 9 Academic Freedoms Of Not Having Tenure, and it piqued my interest.  I have to say that initially I was happy to have a tecchie blog on IHE but over the years it seems to me that Josh just writes for the sake of writing.  This article could have been much more, but I read it more like a sour grapes grapes† ; and one that perpetuates certain observations of academia that we should all be fighting to change (thus the connection with #change11).  So here is my rebuttal of his 9 "freedoms"‡

1. The Pleasures of Being a Generalist
There is a myth in academia that you can't be a generalist, and Josh certainly does his part to perpetuate it.  Sure, faculty do get fired because of their specific specialty however this is true of other non tenure track jobs as well.  The people who get hired as generalists don't get the pay and recognition perks that they would get as specialists, but just because you are hired as a specialist in something it doesn't mean that you can't dabble and experiment in other fields.

2. Social Media vs. Journals
This is a false dichotomy, and people who are interested in having social media contributions count as scholarship really need to be able applying and getting tenure positions because it's only then that the system will change. Scholarship takes many forms, but the journal is the most prolific form.  If we want to get change to happen we need to make it happen, it won't happen on its own. If you like to blog non-sense, go ahead, but it won't count as scholarship - but if you have valid scholarship to share with the world as a public academic it should count as scholarship for tenure/promotion purposes.

3. Portability
It is true that as a tenured person you don't have the mobility that non-tenure people have, but don't blame tenure for this.  If you've been with a company for a very long time, even in non-tenure environments, getting up, picking it all up, closing shop and moving is hard regardless of tenure.  This portability issue is a red-herring.  Regardless of your job you can always pick up and leave - it's just a fact of life.  In academia I would posit that it may be getting easier because if you can switch your teaching load to be from a f2f environment to an online environment you may be able to retain tenure, and work for the same institution remotely. It just depends on where the institution's goals meet your goals.

4. Family Friendly
Tenure track isn't particularly family friendly?  According to whom? Tenure track is what you make it to be.  You look at the requirements that you are given to get tenure, and you do what needs to be done. I would say that tenure track could be more family friendly because you don't need to be away from home from 9 to 5 (or in my case 7:00 to 19:00 if you include commutes) because you only need to come into campus some days a week for teaching, office hours and committee work.  The remainder of the work can be done from home.

5. Change Agency
The claim here is that you can push the boundaries if you're not on the tenure track - what a load of bull. Anyone who's ever worked in any environment knows that norms do get adhered to or there are consequences (unless you're doing stuff under a nom de plume) - the industry or field doesn't matter, there are always norms and as such peer pressure.  Sure, tenure does require certain concessions in terms of creativity and leeway if you want to get tenure, however you can and should push those limits once you get the (limited) protection that tenure gives you.  Tenure is not a deterrent for pushing the limits and boundaries - as a matter of fact it's a license to do so because (theoretically) you can't be fired because you are exercising your academic freedom!

6. Skills and the Marketplace
The notion that academics aren't keeping their skills up to date is ludicrous on face value. Being an academic (yes even the tenured ones) means that there is continuous learning happening and application of that learning.

7. Cross-Disciplinary
The lack of cross disciplinarity if something that  was an issue in academia, and it may still be; however just like item #2 it's up to the tenured folks to make changes. If you don't like that there isn't cross disciplinary research and collaboration don't just complain about it, do something about it and be ready to deal with any promotion (or potential lack of) consequences that come from it. This is how change happens.

8. Cross-Industry
Again, please, this is a corollary to #7 and #2, if you want to meet people from other industries (like tech and publishing) you are more than free as a tenured person to do so.  If you think that tenured folks should be able to do this but can't then start change from the inside and make it acceptable. Don't just complain about it. There are quite a few faculty that go to things like NERCOMP, EDUCASE and Campus Tech conferences.

9. An Unknown Future
This is a rehash of point #6 - tenured academics aren't stagnant - the good ones don't know that comes next, just like the good non-tenured folks in any job.  Every job and every industry has dead wood in their ranks and it's unfair to categorize the entirety of a certain profession by that dead wood.

Sour Grapes reference in case you don't know what it means or where it comes from :-)

‡ note: I am not tenured, I do not have a PhD - but I have my eyes set on both at some point in my career.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Recaptcha madness

Happy February to all!

I thought that this week's DS106 assignment should be something random, so I went with the illustrated recaptcha assignment suggestion whereby you are given the task to illustrate one of those random recaptcha images.  I must have hit that button to give me another captcha many times because I couldn't get inspired by any of the random text.  In the end I got something that looked like Peachill Insurrection. My initial thought was something out of Super Mario (Peachill maybe something named after Princess Peach), maybe some protesting or fighting Goombas or Hammer Brothers...but I couldn't find any fan art of insurrecting goombas to add to images of rolling (peach)hills.

So here's a mashup of Super Mario (World) hills with an image of the Warsaw insurrection (from wikipedia).