Rethinking a Wiki vs LMS for Course Design

CC0 Public Domain image by kaboompics on Pixabay.
CC0 Public Domain image by kaboompics on Pixabay.

Last year, when I first taught EDU 807, “Learning Tools in Education Technology,” one of my goals was to employ a wiki as a learning management system (LMS) so the doctoral students involved in the course could participate in a more open, collaborative form of social scholarship. I have long been an advocate of using wikis as an organizational space for my face-to-face classes and in professional development workshops, and it made sense to me that students involved in a doctoral program about educational technology tools would be able to adapt the wiki for their own uses as individuals and in small groups, and to collaborate in innovative ways.

One of the other elements of this course was that I asked students – both individually and in small groups – to regularly move across a variety of educational technology tools. For instance, we used at least a dozen different technologies including the wiki, Google Docs, VoiceThread, Vialogues, and (the now defunct) Zaption. There was also an attempt to integrate Twitter as a back channel conversation throughout the semester.

The ideal, however, met the reality of teaching an online course to busy professionals, and the struggle to move between spaces began to cause confusion and frustration. For all of us, the management of so many different tools was a challenge: Where are we discussing the readings this week? What is due next? Where is the link for that article?

My end-of-semester course evaluations reflected the types of concerns that students felt as they moved across so many tools in such quick succession. While they generally enjoyed and appreciated the course, it was clear that using the wiki in the way that I envisioned was one step too many, even for students in a doctoral program exploring ed tech. Sadly, our attempts to make use of the wiki on a regular basis quickly fell to the wayside. Also, as an instructor, I struggled to keep a balance with students turning in their work, providing feedback, updating the online gradebook in our normal LMS, Blackboard, and – on top of that – managing revisions and late assignments.

In short, my best efforts at using the wiki as an open, collaborative space for students to generate their own shared understandings of the course material and to create social scholarship became an unnecessary burden. In rethinking the course for this spring, then, I struggled to figure out how I would push back against the practices and discourses of the standard course management system while, at the same time, updating my course for this spring so as to avoid massive confusion on behalf of my students.

Hence, I am returning to our university’s LMS as the “hub” of our course activities. I struggle with this for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I’m trying to teach doctoral students how to employ a variety of educational technology tools – building on collaborative, open source ethos – and yet I must return to an LMS that has a decidedly centered to the tool. I also struggle because I want students to know that social scholarship (openness, collaboration, messiness) does not always work on distinct the context of “taking” a course (modules, assignments, grades).

However, I will keep the idea of being “open” moving forward by asking students to blog on a regular basis, as well as to post additional course assignments as artifacts on their own digital portfolios. Also, we will use Twitter as a way to comment upon one another’s work, as well as to share ideas from other scholars.

I am not particularly pleased about having to give up on using a wiki, and yet at the same time I think by centralizing and streamlining many of the more mundane class activities in the LMS, I will be better able to help my students focus on broader goals of social scholarship and critically evaluating educational technologies. So, wish me luck as I reboot EDU 807 this semester!


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Imagining a New Course: Our Digital Selves

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Public Domain Image from FirmBee on Pixabay

One of my relaxing and still intellectually engaging tasks for this holiday break is to write a proposal for an honors course at CMU. Designed as a first-year seminar for freshman honors students to get them engaged in critical thinking, inquiry, and sustained writing practices, each seminar must tackle a major issue relevant to students’ lives. I am proposing a class entitled “Our Digital Selves: Building and Blending Our Personal, Professional, and Practical Digital Identities.” Here are the details, and I would definitely be interested in getting feedback from other educators about what topics, terminology, and technology I might explore with my students. If the proposal is accepted, I would teach the course in the fall of 2017.


Our Digital Selves: Building and Blending Our Personal, Professional, and Practical Digital Identities

Without question, we live, work, and play in a digital world. Though a divide still exists in terms of skills and access across demographics, it is reasonable to argue that the increasing ubiquity of mobile devices connected to the Internet as well as broadband in our homes, schools, libraries, and workplaces means that all of us – especially young people coming of age in the present moment – are now blending our personal, professional, and practical digital identities across multiple networks and with a variety of tools. However, the ability to upload a picture or post on one’s timeline does not, in and of itself, assure us each a place in digital segments of academia, the workplace, or civic life. In fact, a recent Rasmussen College survey showed that 37% of millennial students see the internet as “scary” and are not confident in their digital literacy skills. This first year seminar will challenge students to critically examine what it means to lead a digital life – personally and academically – and to rethink our understanding of what it means to be mindful, productive, and responsible users of technology.

This seminar would be designed with both face-to-face and hybrid components.

  • In the face-to-face sections of class, we would be engaged in small- and whole-group conversations about articles, chapters, books, videos, and other pieces of scholarship related to digital identity; we would also be examining case studies of digital literacy practices considering current professional standards (such as the ACRL Information Literacy Framework); and, ultimately, we would be producing students’ initial online portfolio using a social networking tool such as About.me or LinkedIn.
  • In the hybrid/online sections of class, we would be exploring a variety of digital tools to help students develop personal, professional, and academic skills including, for instance: shared document collaboration (Google Docs, Microsoft Office 365), bibliographic management (Zotero, Mendely, Endnote), presentation and publication (Infogr.am, Atavist, Adobe Creative Suite), and workplace communication (Slack, Yammer). We might also involve students from outside of CMU as part of our inquiry.
  • Across both the face-to-face and hybrid meetings, we would also be using our time to reflect upon the experience of being engaged in these various exercises with specific tools. In short, we would be metacognitive, critically thinking about our use of digital devices and social practices.

I welcome thoughts, comments, and questions… as well as knowing if anyone else with students from upper elementary school through graduate school would be interested in collaborating on this course to make it an open, immersive experience for everyone involved. If it gets accepted, I will put the call out there again in the spring, but I would be happy to hear from interested educators at any point.


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Feature in ACI Author Spotlight

Image from freepik.com
Image from freepik.com

Thank you to ACI Information Group’s Traci Hector for featuring me in their Author Spotlight this month. Also, my profile on ACI is available here.

As I continue to move forward in my career, I need to think about the ways in which sites like ACI, ORCID, and others work, I am curious to know more about the advantages and disadvantages of such systems. These systems appear to create a public profile for a scholar that then allow users to then follow links into official databases.

On the other hand, there are sites like Academi.edu and ResearchGate, which have received some criticisms such as this from the Chronicle’s Vitae blog and this one from The Scholarly Kitchen. The main point is that they ask scholars to upload PDFs of their work (sometimes without appropriate copyright permissions) and then they connect those articles with other analytics for ads.

Then, there are my LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Klout and (seemingly) countless other profiles.

So, each year around this time when I have to update my CV and enter my own work into CMU’s faculty records database (we use a site called OFIS), I wonder if there isn’t a better (more efficient, more connected, more useful, more public, more open…) way to do this work. It leaves me with lots of questions:

  • What does it mean to be a public intellectual today?
  • “Where” is “public?” Also, “how,” “when,” and “what” is public? To whom?
  • Should I just focus my energy on one of these systems/sites? Or, do I need to keep doing more with each?
  • What does this all mean for open education?

At any rate, I have a profile in ACI, and a featured article. As always, please check it out and let me know what you think.


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Introducing EDU 807: Learning Tools in Education Technology

As the fall semester comes to a close, it is already time for me to turn my attention to the winter/spring. In 2016, I will have my first opportunity to teach a doctoral course, CMU’s EDU 807: Learning Tools in Education Technology.

My goal/hope is to reenergize my blogging activity and to share some timely and consistent updates from EDU 807. As a way to begin this conversation, here is my video introduction to the course.

https://chipcast.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Embed.aspx?id=1b91a6ed-2766-46ae-978e-ba9528d6cca9&v=1

One idea that I am still mulling over is if and how I might “open” up EDU 807 to bring in additional voices of teachers and teacher educators who would want to experience the course in a MOOC-like manner. That is, participants would be able to listen in and participate in our class discussion, both in a synchronous manner through video conferencing as well as around discussions of our shared reading.

So, for all of you reading along this far… if you have any interest in this potential MOOC-like experience, please let me know by sharing a comment below or sending me a tweet or email. If there is enough interest, I may just pursue it.

More on EDU 807 to come soon, most likely around the idea of how we will use tools like Kami, Hypothes.is, and NowComment for our initial reading discussions.


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DLDay 2014 NCTE Chat

In the next few weeks, I will be participating in a few events related for Digital Learning Day. Here’s one of them:

January 19, 2014: Celebrate Digital Learning!

ncte chat logoAs you prepare for Digital Learning Day (#DLDay) — February 5, 2014 — join two NCTE members and edubloggers for a conversation about classroom technology’s past, present, and future.

Kevin Hodgson (@dogtrax) and Troy Hicks (@hickstro) will host #nctechat on Sunday, January 19th, 8 PM EST, and will invite you to consider three big questions while sharing tech tips and teaching tools:

  • To begin, what was your first brush with technology and how did it change the way you wrote, read, and interacted with others?
  • As you think about your classroom right now, what are your plans for Digital Learning Day this year? With critics concerned that technology has become more and more of a distraction, how can we help our students stay focused on smart, intentional work?
  • Finally, what are you looking forward to learning, trying, or making in 2014?

Join us for a conversation about the history of Digital Learning Day and great ideas for teaching digital reading and writing in your English classes!

UPDATE (January 22, 2014): Here is a link to the Storify archive of the chat.


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Please Join Us: K-12 Teaching in the 21st Century MOOC

Follow the MOOC via Twitter @k12techcourses

Though I am a little late to the MOOC movement, I’m excited to be participating in a venture this fall — K-12 Teaching in the 21st Century — that will be facilitated by Rick Ferdig, Kristine Pytash, and a host of other educators from around Michigan. Here is a quick summary, and you can register on the MOOC’s main website.

This free course runs from October 7 to November 8, 2013. It is aimed at high school students, pre-service teachers and in-service teachers who are interested in a conversation about using 21st century tools for teaching.

My hope is that we can use the MOOC to foster rich dialogue about the nature and uses of digital literacies, looking for themes within and across the experience of teachers at various stages of their career and in different professional contexts. More on this next week as we get closer to the October 7th kick-off date.


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Information on the 21st Century Youth Project

After an email exchange with Antonio Rowry, a cofounder at 21st Century Youth Project, I felt it was appropriate to share the work of their organization here on my blog. They describe themselves as “an innovative after school initiative to do a small part to change education” and here is more straight from Antoinio:

The idea first came to us when we read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. To give a quick synopsis, one of our major takeaways from the book is that to become very successful, it’s a combination of several elements: perfect place, perfect timing, with the proper training. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell highlights the massive forces that combined to produce Bill Gates and Bill Joy. They had access to computers and equipment that enabled them to code far before most of the people their age. What does the 21st Century Youth Project entail:

  • Mobile App Development: We are using the Google Android platform where the students will each create their own unique app. The fun part about this is that they can create apps for their friends, family, schools, places of worship, or for the general community. We want to develop leaders, and we’re excited about the power of a student creating an app for their school, and receive recognition for the contribution in the same way as a school athlete.
  • SAT Training: We want to develop students for the next level, being college. Enabling them to slowly receive instruction, we hope to improve their scores so they can attend the school of their dreams. I’m particularly excited about the opportunity to give ACT/SAT math training to communities where paying $1,000 for a class isn’t an option. In many ways, your scores on standardized tests are directly linked to income levels and training, and we’re aiming to bridge that gap.
  • Business Planning: In addition to building an app, we want the students to understand the business implications and executions of their concepts. They will be formed into teams to discuss their business opportunities and create value for their customers.
  • Mentorship: The founder, Prof. Emile Cambry, Jr. is excited to give back because he was very fortunate to be a byproduct of many free educational programs that exposed him to business. Growing up, he thought he was going to be a doctor, but his mother always enlisted him in several programs to learn. It has led to his intellectual curiosity and more importantly; he realized business was his calling. He had attended the LEAD Program in Business and in many ways; the 21st Century Youth Project is based on their implementation. The students will be taking tours to college campuses, primarily those with strong computer or engineering departments, attending technology events in Chicago, and attend lectures taught by Chicago software developers.
  • Open-Source Educational Curriculum: We are slowly enabling, on an invite-only basis, an opportunity to create a dynamic curriculum to be used in the classroom.  This curriculum can be edited like Wikipedia and by keeping it open and dynamic, we hope to develop the best curriculum that isn’t based on state mandated codes, but instead, on what is best for the children. We will have topics in business, technology, finance, film, music, fashion, etc. We only care about providing instruction that the students respond to and learn the most.

After nine months of meetings, conference calls, presentations, and pitches to parents, students, faculty, and administrators, we are finally launching the 21st Century Youth Project. Our first day was February 12th, 2011, one of our MOST personally and professionally satisfying experiences. We’re documenting the progress of the pilot in hopes that we can gear up for a highly successful summer program.