Creativity, Inspiration and the Conservation of Keystrokes

We have at least three members of our  current adult education class who are experimenting with blogs as part of their learning logs.  The care and feeding of a blog can teach many things.   Some of those things are inspirational; others are more practical.

As the center of your digital identity, your web site can give you of a fighting chance in creating a web presence that helps you accomplish your professional goals.  Your blog can provide a forum for narrating you work and help attract a community to inspire, challenge and expand your thinking.  It also can provide a way to save you some keystrokes.

As Jon Udell has pointed out, saving keystrokes can be very important, particularly if Scott Hansleman is right in his assessment:

There are a finite number of keystrokes left in your hands before you die. Next time someone emails you, ask yourself “Is emailing this person back the best use of my remaining keystrokes?”

If you can communicate with more people with fewer keystrokes before you die–that’s a good thing.  I had the opportunity for the last few days to put the principle of conservation of keystrokes into practice, using another blog that I post to occasionally.  Earlier this week, William and Mary got hit with a particularly nasty phishing attack and a group of faculty accounts were compromised.  The resulting flood of spam resulted in William and Mary’s outgoing mail being blocked by most large ISP’s, including Blackberry.  Every time someone sent email to Blackberry, the mail bounced.  Every time the mail bounced, I got email asking what was going on with Blackberry.

Rather  than answer each one those emails individually, I made a quick post to the SoE blog, then I could direct email to that link rather than respond individually.  Using a blog entry works well in this case because I want to provide a little bit of the back story and show how important it is for all of us in the community to be involved if we want to protect our precious Internet.

Here’s a challenge for you to those of us in the EPPL 714 class.  Can you find a way–high tech or low tech–to invest 1 hour in learning something that will save you 5 hours over the next month?  Can you share it with 10 of your friends so that they can save some time, too? If an hour is too much, can you find a way to invest 10 minutes in something that will save you an hour?  ( Want a hint of a place to look?  If you use Microsoft Word, explore using named styles.)

This Blog Gonna Rise Again?

I had pretty much made my peace with being an ex-blogger.   It’s been a year since the last time I posted to this blog, and, even that last post was just a speculation about the wisdom of amateurs running their own servers.  For the previous four years, the blog had been center of my digital identity and the source of connection with a host of interesting, challenging and involved colleagues.  It also generated a fair amount angst, since writing is a form of torture for me; I’m prone to embarrassing typos, and I’ve been told by several colleagues that the defining attribute of my writing is my “keen sense of the obvious”.

That said, I’ve never quite gotten rid of that small voice in the back of my mind that keeps suggesting I ought to revisit the decision to abandon the blog.  The volume of the voice has gone up this semester as I’m teaching my adult education course for the first time since 2006.   The course is a bit unusual in that it builds explicitly on adult learning principles, which immediately frames the class much differently than most other courses that the students have experienced.  (We write the syllabus together after the fourth week of class, for example.)  There are a couple of guiding principles that emerge that relate to blogging:

  • Adult  educators an ethical responsibility to engage in sustained, systematic and critical reflection about their practice.  One of the major goals of the class is to help students develop methods of reflection that will live on beyond this course and will become integrated into their own lifelong learning and will help guide their efforts in helping others learn over the lifespan.
  • If you can find the courage to do it, sharing some of those reflections in a public way can be a source of continued creativity, inspiration and professional challenge.

Three or four of the students in the class are blogging as part of their reflection efforts, so I’ve been a bit sensitized to the need to narrate my own work.  Then two things happened that pushed me over the top and back into the new post window.  First Gardner posted a comment on a year old post saying stating that he was waiting for something new to appear.  (Curse you, Gardo!)  Then, one of the member  of my class signed up for a Twitter account and started following me, causing me to think that maybe it was time for me to get a little more public about my own reflections and practice.  Maybe it would be good to reopen myself to some of that creativity, inspiration and challenge.

Sneak Peek at a New Program on Teaching Excellence

Last week I spent two full days in sessions of the University Teaching Project in preparation for a new partnership at William and Mary focused on using the best combination of traditional and emerging technologies available to broaden and deepen the conversation about excellent teaching. IT’s academic information services staff will be working closely with the Roy Charles Center–the nerve center for WM’s interdisciplinary programs, competitive scholarships, University Teaching Project and the Sharpe Community service program. As a result, the Charles Center is the home of some of the most interesting programs focused on expanding the range of teaching and learning at the College, and dozens of faculty members are working on projects to make learning even more interactive, integrative and imaginative.

We’ve worked closely with the folks at the Charles Center on a number of initiatives, including one focused on understanding the process of undergraduate research, and we’ve laid the groundwork even more expansive projects in the future. The grand plan for the next two years calls for our group to focus the time and resources that we’d been investing in the former Technology Integration Program on expanding the reach of the University Teaching Project. Our efforts in creating TIP had some very real successes, but we never achieved the kind of seamless integration that we had hoped for.

In practical terms, we’re going to help develop a fully interactive web site that fosters communications and consolidates resources about teaching in a common location. We know that teaching is highly valued at WM, but a visitor from Mars would have to look pretty hard for evidence of our commitment. Efforts at teaching improvement have generally been highly personal and private–shared only with a few close colleagues and department members. Our goal is to keep the support for grassroots efforts at teaching improvement, closely tied to the individual classroom, while publicizing some of successes so that others can build on them. In the early stages of the project, we’ll focus on listening, gathering information and trying to understand what the teaching community of practice is really like.

We’re optimistic about the potential value of this partnership because of the strong alignment between our way of working in the academic computing group and that of Joel Schwartz, Dean of Interdisciplinary Studies:

I am a catalyst,” he said. “What a good teacher does is kind of catalyze thinking and productivity in students. Teaching is not something in which you have a student sit at your feet while you dispense wisdom down to them and they soak it into their heads. You try to help them become original, creative people.” (link)


University Teaching Project

Finding a Philosophical Base for Educational Technology

Parallel Universes | Learning In a Flat World

I’ve been trying to find a way to sort out some of my impressions and thoughts about the University of Mary Washington Faculty Academy. Britt Watwood, an online learning specialist at VCU, may have provided the opening in this post where he compares his experiences at the faculty academy to the those at a VCU faculty development program that was being conducted at the same time.

The focus of the VCU Summer Institute was on the philosophical issues that shape decisions about teaching and learning. The Institute description noted:

Furthermore, absent a cogent, unifying teaching and learning philosophy, many courses appear to students as a maze instead of a roadmap—after all, it is called a course.

Developing a coherent, unifying vision and philosophy is central to good practice and requires a level of thought that goes well beyond decisions about whether allow laptops in class or pay attention to the back channel at a conference. Roger Hiemstra, my former professor in the adult education program at Syracuse University defined educational philosophy this way: “Putting the nature of the universe, including meaning, people, and relationships, into an understandable or explainable perspective”. Students in both the masters and doctoral programs developed personal philosophy statements spanning multiple courses as our understanding of our roles as teachers, researchers and citizens deepened and grew. Roger’s own personal statement of philosophy, personal code of ethics, and statement of professional commitment served as models for my work. Few of us spend much time each day contemplating the fundamental questions that shape philosophical inquiry.

  • What do you believe is the purpose of higher education?
  • What do you believe about the nature of the learner?
  • What do you believe about the nature of teaching?
  • What does it mean to “know” something?
  • What is the right relationship between “content” and “process”?

The end of the academic year provides an excellent time to revisit these broad questions. Venues such as faculty faculty academies, summer institutes, and conferences provide the opportunity for conversations with others in our communities. As Britt points out, getting colleagues to question and adjust their paradigms is difficult and engaging in that kind of deep reflection requires testing our ideas and beliefs in the presence of others who may hold deeply different ideas.

In preparing for my presentation at the Faculty Academy, I noticed that it’s been a long time since I updated and articulated my own statement of philosophy, ethical assumptions and personal commitment. Would we be more convincing in our work with our colleagues if we were operating from more thoughtful, comprehensive frameworks ourselves? To what extent do those of us who work in Educational Technology even have any shared values? Maybe this summer would be a good time for those of us in the ed tech “profession” to think about some of these things in the same cogent, unified way we’re asking our faculty colleagues to think about their teaching.

Finding Focus

Last year at this time, I launched a little experiment. I set aside the amount of time that I normally would spend taking or teaching a class–about 10 hours a week for 15 weeks–to see how much I could improve my overall fitness. The results were pretty gratifying–I dropped my BMI (the dreaded body mass index) by 50%, brought my resting heart rate into the 60’s, and reduced my the diastolic arterial pressure by 12 points or so. The experiment had two goals: getting in better shape and learning more how I could make changes in my own behavior when I needed (or wanted to).

The second of those goals was important to me. Spending an hour a day on the Arc Trainer can seem like an incredible waste of time–even when listening to some good podcasts. Looking at it as an experiment in my own “learning how to learn” put the effort squarely in the long tradition of adult educators like Allen Tough and his work on intentional change. That helps make the investment seem a little more meaningful.

This semester, I think I’m going to try a different experiment. I’ve been fascinated for some time by David Allen’s book Getting Things Done and the impact on so many in the geekosphere. I’ve played around the edges with some of the tools, but I’m wondering what would happen if I really focused for a semester on developing an integrated approach to the “art of stress-free productivity.” Stress-free? Wonder what impact that would have on the old diastolic.

The Messages We Send

How to Read My Comments on Your Paper Drafts:

Every once in a while I read about some educational practice that makes such perfect sense I can can’t help but wonder why everyone isn’t doing it. Steve Greenlaw periodically directs posts in his blog specifically to his students. In a recent post he addresses the purpose of the writing students are doing in his freshman seminar.

“Writing is the tool most scholars use to think about ideas. You don’t write when you have your ideas figured out; rather, you write to figure out what you think. Writing, revising and rewriting is what scholars do. Completing the first draft of a paper is the beginning of your thinking; it shouldn’t be the end.”

When I read drafts, I try to read them as I would a colleague’s paper who is asking for help in improving their work. What that means is I’m not pointing out what’s “wrong” with the paper. Rather, I’m making suggestions about what isn’t clear to the reader, or what I think might make the paper stronger.

I had to contrast Steve’s message to his students with the one we’re sending to our graduate students. We’re in the midst of the comps season, and my colleagues and I are dutifully preparing questions for the two days of exams that will determine whether the students that we’ve spent the last couple of years (or more) working and learning with should be allowed to begin their dissertations. As I look at the fascinating questions my colleagues have prepared, two thoughts immediately pop into my mind.

First, I thank the design of the universe that I’m not being expected to answer them. The thought of having to enter a room with a computer and no notes and synthesize two years of thinking, reading and writing about leadership or planning or policy–much less all of them together–would be terrifying. (It might be interesting if we had a qualifying exam for those who are reading the comps–just a half-day in which we are expected to synthesize all the research in our fields since we took our last closed-book comprehensive exam. It might make it even harder to find readers than it is now.)

The second thought is to try to find some rational reason for subjecting students to this experience. Once they’ve jumped through this hoop, is there any professional situation where they would be expected to do this again? Comps were the most worthless step in my own doctorate–largely because the key research in the field suggested that the only thing timed exams measured was the the ability to take timed examinations.

As I understand Steve’s message to his students, he’s telling them that it’s worth learning the conversation that shapes professional writing because it will be at the core of their education. I can’t help but wonder what message our graduate students are getting from us through the comps requirement.

Introducing Life-Long Learners to Web 2.0

Learning 2.0 – Main

This program came to my attention through a brand new blog that I’ve just added to my aggregator. (Welcome to the blogosphere, Charlotte!) The project was designed to introduce members of the staff at the Public Library Charlotte and Mecklenburg County in North Carolina. PLCMC Staff members who completed all 23 activities–ranging from starting their own blogs, setting up a bloglines RSS reader and exploring Flickr mashups–received an MP3 player. (Looks like over 117 have completed the tasks and earned their MP3 players so far and over 300 have started blogs–as required by Activity #3.)

The 23 activities are distributed over 9 weeks, and each activity includes a brief overview–generally with a podcast and some text, some “discovery resources” and a specific discovery exercise. Typical explorations include:

  • #18 Web-based Apps: There not just for desktops
  • #17 Playing around with PBWiki
  • #20 You too can YouTube
  • #19 Discovering Web 2.0 tools

Activity #2 provides an overview of 71/2 Habits for Self-Directed Learners.

I wonder how many W&M folks would take the challenge to participate in a similar exercise?

Reflections of An Adult Educator

Mark Federman is posting an interesting series of reflections as part of a PhD seminar on “The Political Economy of Adult Education.” The reflections are in response to a paper written by Ian Baptiste and Tom Hearney titled The Political Construction of Adult Education. The paper provides a fascinating dialogue in which Baptiste and Heaney respond to a series of questions about the nature of the adult education. Baptist is Professor in Charge of the Adult Education Program at Penn State and Heaney is head of the adult education doctoral program at National Louis University.

The questions are far reaching:

  1. Do you refer to yourself as “an adult educator”?
  2. What are the distinctive practices, institutions, organizations, purposes and predecessors of the enterprise you call adult education?
  3. Increasingly “adult learning” is being substituted for “adult education.” What do you make of this substitution?
  4. If can be reasonably argued that the enterprise you described above will continue, whether or not the label “adult education” remains. Provide a rationale for continued use of the label or propose a more desirable alternative.

There’s lots in both the original paper and in Federman’s reflections that bear on some of the questions that we are addressing in various ways in this class.

Recources for Autodidacts: Free College Education?

Technophilia: Get a free college education online – Lifehacker

This is a large collection of links to free on-line courses, syllabi and other learning resources.

The web has made it easier than ever before to get a free education, and you’d join the ranks of great thinkers in history who were also self-taught, like Joseph Conrad, Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Paul Allen, Agatha Christie and Ernest Hemingway. You, too, can be an autodidact; the breadth of free educational materials available online is absolutely astonishing.

This is an interesting compilation of on-line resources for self-education, but, Charlotte’s recent comment got me thinking about how many resources are actually getting harder to get access to as public library budgets are cut and university libraries move more materials onto electronic networks that require logins. She had a recent conversation with a librarian who claimed that the web has not democratized access to scholarly literature to the extent most people believe.

… but, in fact, has segregated it within elite communities more than ever. In the past, an unaffiliated person could probably walk into a medical or law library and use its resources for free more easily than one today can gain entry to either a bricks-and-mortor academic library without the right ID card or to its online data bases without a legit username and password.

I’m totally spoiled by having on-line access to most of the library databases and many of the full-text journals that I need. In preparing for my course I checked out and read about 30 books, but found myself almost always avoiding journals unless they were available on line or if I had copies of the articles in my files.

Moderating Webinar Presentations: New Role for the 21st Century

David Warlick: A Tough Day

I never was a big fan of most integrated “webinar style” distance education tools like Elluminate Live or Tegrity, but part of the reason may have been that they require such extraordinarily strong moderators to be successful. My most recent experience was as a guest speaker with a group 50 K-12 administrators and technical specialists, and I’m closer now to being a believer. It’s amazing how many different activities are taking place simultaneously in one of these sessions:

  1. Live video of the featured speaker.
  2. Each of the 50 people has a microphone and can raise their hand to speak.
  3. Online white board and application sharing with private screens and public screens
  4. File Transfer
  5. Both moderated and public chat
  6. The session is being archived.
  7. Pollls, Quizes, Emoticons

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach was the moderator of my session, and I was amazed at her ability to juggle all those inputs–bringing people in the conversation, troubleshooting microphone volume problems,giving direction to the other moderators. Dave Warlick participated in the fireside chat for the K12Online conference, and he shared my amazement.

I personally applaud, once again, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, who served masterfully as the session moderator. She was the perfect host. I can’t help but picture her with wires coming out of her ears, and light flashing on her forehead, because she was managing an enormous number of people, and handling the heading and air conditioning at the same time — and our voices, our applause, EVERYTHING ! Outstanding Job!

Twenty-first century education is going to need specialists who can design and manage the complexity of this kind of learning activity. These teaching tools have amazing capabilities, but very few of us brought up in traditional settings have the knowledge or the skills to make the most of them. If you haven’t done this kind of activity before, check out the archive to get a sense of the complexity.