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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Web Culture at OU, New and Old: A Cautionary Tale

Some of you may have seen the gorgeous new redesign of the OUCreate project which Adam Croom announced in a blog post here: Rolling out a new front page for 2016. You might also have read Jim Groom's follow-up, where he talks about how this represents "a sign that this could be a much broader shift in the academic web culture of the university." Here's Jim's post: OU Creating Again.

While I am a big booster of OUCreate, I am dismayed to think that the bigger picture of "academic web culture" at OU is not being taken into account here. One of the problems that OUCreate faces, in fact, is the big discontinuity between OUCreate and OU's previous efforts to support web publishing through our IT department at faculty-staff.ou.edu and students.ou.edu. Since students.ou.edu was shut down in December 2015, and since faculty-staff.ou.edu is scheduled to be shut down this summer, I thought I would say a few words here about my experience as a user of both of those services since back in 1999, and why I am much more cautious than Adam and Jim in my assessment of OU's support for web publishing by students, faculty, and staff.

And, yes, this is tl;dr ... which is one of the problems with the assessment of OU's web culture. It takes some time to work through the nitty-gritty of what we have at the moment and how we got here. But the nitty-gritty is important, and OU has a history of making bold claims without the follow-through that is essential in long-term projects like web publishing. I've been teaching students how to publish their creative work on the web since the Fall of 1999; in that time, I've probably taught 2000 students some basics of web literacy that they can use, if they want, to create a web presence for themselves in school and beyond. I'm in this for the long term, and in this post I'd like to sketch, from that long-term perspective, some of the history of web publishing for faculty, staff, and students at OU, along with some of the questions we need to be asking so that we can avoid making mistakes that have been made in the past.

Faculty-staff.ou.edu and Students.ou.edu. When I first came to OU in 1999 as a faculty member in the Classics department, I was glad to see that there were web publishing opportunities for faculty, staff, and students. The system had just been set up in 1998, and for its time, it was really excellent! We didn't have to request permission from anybody for anything; we just went to the IT account management page where also we set up an OU email alias, password, etc. You clicked a button, and an account was created for you based on your "dotted name" which is a unique identifier that OU still uses for default email. My dotted name is "Laura.K.Gibbs-1" (the number is for those rare instances when someone has the same first-initial-last name). Students.ou.edu was shut down in December, but you can take a look at this screenshot to see how it worked for faculty, their directories being listed on pages alphabetically in this view of the site:


You can tell how ancient the system is because it features the old OU logo (unkindly nicknamed "the toilet seat") which was phased out around the year 2002.

Yet at the time, this was spectacular: any faculty, staff, or student could turn on their webspace and start uploading files, publishing on the open Internet. I had students publishing webpage projects in their spaces using Netscape Composer in Fall 1999, and faculty were publishing with Netscape Composer or maybe Dreamweaver, the tools of the day back in 1999. Student webspace was limited (just 3MB if I remember correctly); faculty space was limited too, but you could request additional space. After I left the Classics department in 2001, I went to work for IT, evangelizing about faculty-staff.ou.edu and urging faculty to create and share teaching materials online. In 2002, I started teaching for the online course program in the College of Arts & Sciences, and my classes then, as now, focused on students sharing their work online.

Integration with search.ou.edu. One of the best things about this system was that it was automatically integrated with search.ou.edu; when you looked someone up in the official Search Directory, you saw the link to their webspace along with their name, office location, email address, etc. That integration still works; someone who searches for me at OU instantly finds my faculty-staff.ou.edu web address, which I have configured to redirect to the web space I actually use for my homepage now:


That was super; you could also enter a redirect directly through the account management page (no longer true, since web space management has disappeared without fanfare from the IT accounts page). What's going to happen when faculty-staff.ou.edu is taken down this summer? Are we going to be able to manually enter some kind of address for our web presence? Configurable profiles are something IT started promising the faculty back in 2001... I know, because I was one of the IT employees making that promise. Here we are in 2016, 15 long years later, and that basic element of web presence is still missing. OU will help you find someone's email address, sure. But their web presence? Nope. Presumably it's just not important.

Student profile links at search.ou.edu. So, students.ou.edu is gone. What does that mean for their web presence? Well, if you search for a student at search.ou.edu right now, you still see a link to their students.ou.edu account; click on the link and you get a splash page that says students.ou.edu is out of service.

Can a student update their profile to indicate their new web address? Hmmmm. I'm not sure. The IT Help pages online tell you where to go to activate your OUCreate space (it's not an IT project, so you go to the create.ou.edu space that Adam Croom and the Center for Teaching Excellence are maintaining). I couldn't find any information for students about how to now display your correct address in your profile. If OU students were relying on this system to help boost their web presence to, say, potential employers, the broken link and an OUCreate splash page is surely not going to help their job search.

Integration with enroll.ou.edu. We used to have a homegrown enrollment system, and it was fully integrated with faculty-staff.ou.edu. That was seriously cool: when students were searching through the online course catalog and enrolling in courses, there was a link displayed automatically for faculty who had activated their web space. If you wanted to share your syllabus with students so that they could know what they were actually enrolling in, you could do that! I always did that. It was great. That was the closest OU has ever come to a system that could support open syllabuses.

But when that homegrown system was replaced with a new SIS called Ozone (I think that was in 2009), that integration disappeared. Poof: all gone! OU Faculty are told to upload their syllabuses in the LMS... but those syllabuses are only visible after classes start and only to students who were already enrolled in the class. The ability of faculty to proactively share course information with students that we had in enroll.ou.edu was gone. Will it ever come back? It would be great it it did. I doubt very many people even remember that we used to have that integration back in the days before Ozone.

The end of faculty-staff.ou.edu. As mentioned above, students.ou.edu is now gone; see below for a bit of information about a previous plan (aborted) to shut down both students.ou.edu and faculty-staff.ou.edu back in 2010. Web hosting is a serious business, and to end a web hosting service requires enormous care. Yet faculty are still updating content on faculty-staff.ou.edu; I saw at least one faculty member still using it for the open content of his Spring 2016 course (a highly touted "Presidential Dream Course," in fact, one that was written up in our student newspaper just last week). But people with active accounts on faculty-staff.ou.edu have not received any specific information about the shutdown of the service in Summer 2016. The only reason I know about that is because Adam Croom included that information in an email he sent out to all faculty about OUCreate in the Fall; how many faculty simply missed that email? (We get a LOT of email.) No email, so far as I know, has gone out to people with content on faculty-staff.ou.edu; I have a redirect page there and some old files, so I would presumably receive such an email. Nada.

Indeed, if you go to faculty-staff.ou.edu right now, there is nothing about a coming shutdown. In fact, the site even urges you to go to account.ou.edu to set up your account:


But if you go to account.ou.edu there is no mention of web hosting of any kind at all (you can see the current logo there by the way):


I looked through the IT Help site to find out just what was planned regarding the summer shutdown, and the only information I found said that when students, faculty, or staff leave the university, their faculty-staff.ou.edu or students.ou.edu space is closed. It didn't even say that students.ou.edu was completely shut down down (as it is), and I didn't find any information about the coming shutdown of faculty-staff.ou.edu at all.

Help! I'm sure OU IT is eager to get out of the web hosting business... but helpful, detailed, timely communication with customers is crucial. Here we are with the final semester of faculty-staff.ou.edu already underway, yet there is apparently no way of finding out that the service is being shut down this summer, much less any way of knowing what to do about it. Will IT assist in the migration to OUCreate? Will there be redirects from the old directories to a new address we can designate? Will there be an address we can list in the search.ou.edu profile? So many questions. Answers: none. When I asked IT about this directly last August upon first hearing about the demise of faculty-staff.ou.edu, I received this reply: "We are formulating a specific plan and will communicate the details directly to all involved as we flesh them out. We do intend to allow some sort of forward / directory transfer or alias feature for faculty and staff, but until that is decided and we have the details, we will not be able to answer your specific question. We are working with CTE and will ensure that adequate communication is made. Please let us know if you need anything else." I guess they are still fleshing things out.

Optimistic... but cautious. So, while I am excited about the potential OUCreate has to offer, and while I am indeed recommending it to my students as one possible web publishing option, I am cautious. I have to be. It's not just about the poor management of faculty-staff.ou.edu and its coming demise; there are other reasons to be cautious. OU giveth, and OU taketh away. I've written up two appendices below that provide examples of OU's unsteady support for academic web presence; I could list more (just click on blogs.ou.edu for the aftermath of another defunct effort).

As I said above, I am in this for the long term. The single biggest mistake I've ever made in my online teaching was to have relied on students.ou.edu long after OU was willing to support it; that is a big part of my cautious attitude now. I hope that OUCreate really does represent a new era in commitment to student web publishing, as well as support for faculty and staff web publishing. I've been waiting for that a long time here at OU, and I'm still waiting — more optimistically than before, to be sure — before claiming we really do have a new academic web culture at OU.

~ ~ ~

APPENDIX 1. Portfolio.ou.edu. Back in 2010, IT made its first effort to shut down students.ou.edu and faculty-staff.ou.edu. For those of us who were relying on students.ou.edu at the time (as I was for all my classes), it was a disaster. OU IT set up a branded installation of Xythos named Portfolio.ou.edu, insisting that this was the web publishing alternative that was going to replace the student and faculty-staff web servers. It was clear to anyone actually publishing on the web that Xythos was an inadequate solution. Why? Xythos was built for file-sharing, not for publishing on the web. I tested it extensively and concluded it was not adequate for my students, and it was certainly not adequate for my web publishing. That was when I realized I could no longer rely on OU to support my students' work, and I began recommending third-party alternatives — Google Sites, Wix, Weebly, etc.,  free sites that the students themselves set up and maintain, keeping the content up or taking it down after the class was over. That is the practice I still follow, with the addition of OUCreate to that list of recommendations (which, while not free, is absolutely a bargain at $12/year).

And what about Portfolio.ou.edu? It is being shut down in June, but without any notice to users (at least no notice so far). I have files on the system that I put up for testing, and I have not received any information about the demise of the system. Shouldn't they have said something to users about shutting down our personal web space, as they claimed it was...? It was where we could "create personal web space," as the screenshot shows:


So, yes, if you go to the site, there is a note that the system is being shut down, and users are told to go to OU's Microsoft Office 365. Help transferring files? Support for redirects? Nothing about that. Too bad for anybody who trusted OU back in 2010 when they told us that Portfolio.ou.edu was the web publishing solution we should be using. I wonder if OU IT will ever get around to sending a note to users who put their trust in Portfolio.ou.edu.

APPENDIX 2. Janux.ou.edu. In a flurry of press releases and an ambitious marketing campaign, OU released Janux.ou.edu in Fall 2013 as a platform that would support courses for registered OU students as well as courses open to the general public: "OU [is] now offering courses taught by university professors to anyone around the world." Indeed, we had set a new record: "The 20 open courses offered by Janux sets the record as the highest number of classes offered in the first year by any other university. By comparison, the University of Texas system launched in the Fall of 2012 and so far has offered four courses." The webpage making these claims is still up; you can see it here: Janux Open Courses.

I have made it a point to enroll in an open Janux course every semester to see how they were going; without exception, the courses I enrolled in fizzled into non-activity. If you go to Janux.ou.edu to see what courses are available for Spring 2016, the first thing you see is the US History course that is for sale — in fact, it's on sale; $449 for credit (marked down from $500), $149 not for credit (marked down from $200). There are three open courses, a sharp decline from the "record-breaking" 20 courses of 2013.

It's not that our support for Janux has gone down; the OU Regents voted to spend $3 million dollars on a contract with NextThought, the company that provides our Janux platform (well, not quite 3 million: $2,800,000, following costs of $2,770,000 last year and $709,400 in the first year of operations; those numbers are from the September 2015 Regents Agenda). I have no idea what the overall budget for Janux is; the contract with NextThought is the only part that has been made public.

Just to keep up my past practice, I enrolled in the Janux Statistics course, which is one of the three courses being offered in Spring 2016 as an open course. As near as I can tell, nobody else is enrolled; there is, anyway, zero activity on the discussion board. Janux claims to be a social learning environment; that claim doesn't match the reality of those screenshots. I wonder if anybody at OU has even looked at the open course. Is there anybody else even enrolled in the open course...? Hard to tell.


Assignments? Baffling. There are two views; one with a list, and one with colored boxes; neither of them makes sense. Although I apparently have three quizzes and an exam "due today" (the class started last week):



I'll see what kind of notifications I get now that I've enrolled, and I will update this post accordingly. I did get an email when I enrolled, a generic email, the same as for all the Janux courses I've ever enrolled in: "You are about to embark on a one-of-a-kind learning experience through Janux. More importantly, you are joining a true learning community built to connect, engage, and inspire all who wish to learn." The marketing for the open Janux courses may have pretty much come to a halt, but the hype lives on.

~ ~ ~

In closing, I hope that OUCreate morphs into something more and more real with each passing year, a story of rising up rather than the story of decline-and-fall that has marked our previous web efforts. OUCreate is an excellent product, the kind of excellent product our students, faculty, and staff deserve. I'm even hoping that the faculty-staff.ou.edu transition could still work to OUCreate's benefit. Will faculty get the support and encouragement they need to transfer their content to domains through OUCreate? Or will they just abandon their web presence out of frustration? That's still really up in the air; perhaps this blog post will play some role in moving that process forward. I'll be sure to update with any information that gets sent to faculty-staff.ou.edu account holders in the months to come!

















Saturday, January 16, 2016

Ritchie's Self-Efficacy: Chapter 4

As I explained in an earlier post, one of my projects for winter break is writing up a review of Laura Ritchie's new self-efficacy book: Fostering Self-Efficacy in Higher Education Students. I just ran out of time in writing up notes (I've gotten so spoiled by reading almost all my books as Kindles and getting my highlighted notes as exports automatically)... anyway, here are some more notes on Chapter 4. My comments are in italics.





Chapter 4: Embedding the foundations of self-efficacy in the classroom

"The understanding of how to learn is not automatic, and then taking the learning and applying and connecting to practical skill use is again another process."

"Misaligning judgment beliefs can cause problems for students, whether they are over or under confident."

Learning: Skills, techniques, and content

"A combination of seen and unseen, external and internal, physical and psychological factors all contribute to students' understanding of their capabilities.

"Past experiences are considered alongside interactions with others, personal attributes, and aspects of the current situation, along with the values and expectations that surround the task itself; these aspects all influence forming self-efficacy judgments when approaching learning."

Belief

"Whenever students believe that what they have done is not something that came from them, whether it is a positive or negative experience, that event is less likely to significantly affect their self-efficacy for carrying out the actual task."

"Either success or failure can be attributed to causes beyond the individual's control."

"Early in schooling children attribute success to effort and hard work, but as they grow there is more of an understanding of skills and their own cognitive processes."

My skills bring success.

(image at cheezburger)


"When people consider their capabilities in relation to their personal potential and not in terms of outside influences or benchmarks, then they break free from the reliance on social contexts for comparisons and begin to take responsibility for their self-beliefs."

Symptoms of low self-efficacy

"Understanding the specific criteria and type of skills that are needed for learning can inform an accurate judgment about their self-efficacy for learning."

"Past experiences also influence a student's beliefs when approaching new projects, with positive experiences effectively building self-efficacy beliefs and negative experiences bringing them down."

I don't let the past bring me down.

(image is from cheezburger)


"Assessments produce obvious outcomes, such as exam results, but the week-on-week learning can be overlooked and not recognized as a separate task. Students may not realize that their progress in learning is a positive accomplishment and can very much contribute to how they view their capabilities."

"Helping students to interpret their progress within learning by highlighting their progressive achievements will build their self-efficacy beliefs."

"When students do not consider learning a task, which is made of layers of separate methods and skills, they may skip over these and solely focus on carrying out the final assessment."

"When students have a new task to approach and they say they are worried or not confident, ask them to consider why. Are they underprepared? Is there some danger involved? it is a teacher's role to unravel any unfounded low self-efficacy beliefs."

"If students are aware that they have had past difficulties, then this will impact the way they approach new work that also uses these skills. Students with low self-efficacy may attempt to avoid the task, making sure they do not experience a failure."

Process

"Each teacher must sift through the learning theories and terminology embedded within his or her specialism to find wider relationships and to draw out what is specifically relevant and useful to everyday practice and everyday development."

(Ritchie reviews quite a few different models of learning to draw out useful concepts and terminology.)

"Zimmerman also differentiates naive and experienced learners, and stresses that less experienced learners tend to react to learning instead of preparing effectively through forethought. In the forethought stage, students use their existing knowledge and experience to form self-efficacy beliefs, making judgments about their capabilities for the tasks ahead."

First,  I make a plan.

(image is from cheezburger)


"Self-efficacy is pivotal throughout learning and informs how students view and choose their learning goals, the strategies they use, and the way they approach difficulties."

Demonstrating student understanding

"Learning and building beliefs is a multifaceted process, and a teacher can only know a small part of what the student experiences, but an ongoing dialogue between the teacher and student creates openness and allows for collaboration."

"Creating situations where a dialogue exists between student and teacher, and both provide elements of the input and responses, are integral parts of the learning process."

"Questioning is not primarily a technique for finding a particular "right" answer. Asking questions that are open-ended primers encourages and teaches the student to look within and think, analyze, and create, and this can lead to developing deeper learning and fostering self-efficacy beliefs."

"Question is also a way to invite and engage students who are not openly willing to participate in their learning. Sometimes this begins with the student becoming aware that the question itself may present something new that the student may never have considered."

Case study: Hans Jensen

"Questioning allows him to gain a confirmation of what the students understand, what aspects of the task they are actively considering, and whether they are aware of either processes or outcomes."

"Simply observing people as they learn or perform a task gives part of that picture, but the internal aspects, the thoughts and planning, and awareness of how processes manifest themselves through physical delivery is not necessarily observable."

"These gaps between the student experience and the teacher's perception can be partially addressed through an active dialogue."

"The dialogue of questions does not represent the end of a single closed process, but it is the beginning of an extended cycle of exploring ideas."

"The students are being taught the processes of how to think and solve complex problems for themselves. There is a strong element of trust between the teacher and the students, and there is an awareness that the process is for the students, not something external that is being imposed on them."

"There is no limit to the amount of improvement or the level of detail that can be explored within any given topic. It depends on the awareness of the student, the focus, the level, the goals, the repertoire — the list can go on infinitely within each area of specialization."

Exploring modeling: Creating safe experiences

"A transparent involvement in modeling learning to students is a powerful tool for learning."

"If student have robust senses of self-efficacy they will strive to find and make connections with any observed material."

I can connect with what I see.



(image is from cheezburger)

"If students are less assured and have low self-efficacy, then a direct and obviously non-threatening connection needs to be presented in a way that does not challenge the students' delicate self-beliefs."

Attention

"For modeling to be effective, the students need to be aware of the specific processes that are being demonstrated, the strategies that are used, and how this relates to them."

"Students must engage with the material before they can learn from it."

 I engage, and  I learn.

(image is from cheezburger)


Retention

"There is a difference between watching a performance or film for enjoyment and watching to understand the craft and delivery of the acting and understanding the content on an analytical level."

"If student-observers watch with deliberate and focused attention, they can also form links with other areas of their knowledge and experience. Making a mental record of events, having in-class or online discussions, and written descriptions or notes all assist the student to review, reflect on, and access processes within the specific scenario demonstrated to them."

I watch with deliberate attention.

(image is from cheezburger)

Reproduction

"Recreating the learned behaviors depends largely on how effectively the retention stage has been executed."

"Learning requires initial experimentation, and depending on how complicated the task is there may be layers of learning and small activities needed before the student can reproduce the modeled behavior with confidence and security."

Learning requires initial experimentation.

(image from cheezburger)

Reinforcement and motivation

"Reinforcement in terms of validating what students are doing will enable them to continue to develop what was modeled, instead of leaving the knowledge as a safely understood yet untested concept."

"Students can be aware and understand, but before they have actually done it for themselves, they still can have that element of doubt that perhaps they cannot do it."

Mastery model

"When presenting a mastery model, the activity is carried out with ease and precision; the person demonstrating is in control of the task and it is polished as if in a professional setting."

"A mastery model is not always the most helpful for students. Students with a weak self-efficacy will attempt to make direct comparisons, and they see their own lack of skill."

"A perfect model will allow a teacher to present his or her own skill in a good light, but can act as a deterrent to students and actually impede their learning."

Modeling for medical students: "It is important that students remain interested throughout and not frustrated by the experience, as sometimes medical procedures take several hours. So if a student is managing the light for the student or holding the thread during sewing, even though these may seem small jobs, the student is involved in the process and is no longer only an observer."

Coping model

"When the teacher fully demonstrates the processes involved in carrying out a task, including potential pitfalls, the cognitive processes, and the choices that are made about methods and actions, this is a coping model."

"Schunk and Hanson used a further form of modeling with this verbalization that they called the coping-emotive model. In this setting there are verbalizations that illustrate initial doubt in  capabilities and acknowledge the task difficulty that accompany the demonstration."

Teacher modeling

"A teacher may not always bet the best model to show the struggles and challenges that students find when first attempting a task. It can be extremely awkward when the teacher goes against expectations if the student is not aware of what is happening."

"A teacher can be a very effective coping model when the premise is set and the students know that the teacher is playing a part, so they can then follow the associate with the role-modeled situation."

Peer modeling: removing barriers

"Overall this experience will strengthen the self-efficacy of the able students who act as models, and where collaborative working and discussion take place, it can also boost the self-efficacy of the struggling students as they relate to and learn from their peers."

Peer modeling is powerful.

(image is from cheezburger)

"Direct comparisons between students and a peer are more apparent, making the situation influential for learning and for building self-efficacy beliefs."

"A teacher can explain an example that either demonstrates mastery or coping to accomplish a task."

"The teacher's involvement here is essential because a step-by-step guided explanation ensures that the process is clearly explained. For new or struggling students this can lead them on from the initial stage of attention, to the other components of modeling: retention, reproduction, and then motivation to continue and use what is learned for themselves."

Ritchie's Self-Efficacy: Chapter 3

As I explained in an earlier post, one of my projects for winter break is writing up a review of Laura Ritchie's new self-efficacy book: Fostering Self-Efficacy in Higher Education Students. I just ran out of time in writing up notes (I've gotten so spoiled by reading almost all my books as Kindles and getting my highlighted notes as exports automatically)... anyway, here are some more notes on Chapter 3. My comments are in italics.





Chapter 3: Modes of Communication

"Applying simple, small changes can improve the effectiveness of communication and have a positive influence on self-efficacy beliefs."

"The teacher might be the first person to exert an influence on their student's self-efficacy beliefs."

"Every aspect of communication can be used to assist, direct, and encourage the students toward developing a secure sense of their learning within a subject area."

"There will be times when the student's attention needs to be drawn to specific processes and skills, and other times when the refinement an delivery of the finished work is key."

Instruction, interaction, and feedback:

In person

"Live communication is experiential, spontaneous, and unfolding. It is different from reading a text, when there is the luxury of scanning ahead or reading back over certain paragraphs."

Face to face dialogue unfolds spontaneously.

(image is at cheezburger)


"Any time the teacher and student interact in person, there is an element of reciprocal influence."

Spoken word

"All that we say is, in effect, verbal feedback, whether part of a casual conversation or a specifically crafted response."

"What does the student know? Where are they coming from? What is the current situation? Are there any external factors involved? All of these can influence decisions about choosing words that will effectively and efficiently enable that student to see a situation clearly."

"This often involves not giving a direct answer, but drawing attention to the surroundings. Providing a model or a comparison can be more productive than stating the direct facts."

"If words are to foster self-efficacy, then it makes sense to use the language of self-efficacy. With these beliefs the focus is on can and capable. Language that positively reinforces this will create a mindset that encourages receptivity and growth."

"Working to present positives, as opposed to negatives, can have a strong impact on students. Throughout daily interactions, teachers can assess how often negatives present themselves in speech, and with a moment's thought intervening before action, these can be turned into positives. Simply reframing a direction like, "Don't turn on the flame" to "Keep the flame off" can have a strong impact on student perception."

"The word "don't" can imply that actually the teacher holds an unseen belief that the student might indeed do the wrong thing first.

"Another simple verbal change is to avoid asking students to try to do things. What does it look like when someone tries to do something? It is not an image of accomplishment. Instead, use words that specify the stages of carrying out a task. For example, students do not try to write the essay, but they do brainstorm, plan, outline, research, draft, read, edit, and type the essay."

Physical gesture

(This part is less relevant for me as I teach fully online without any video; I'm kind of relieved not to have do all this self-monitoring of body language as well as verbal language!)


I communicate non-verbally.

(image is from cheezburger)

Listening

"Between saying something and a reply comes thought and reflection, and facilitating the process of understanding is important."

Between statement and reply comes thought and reflection.

(image is from cheezburger)


"The type of comments students make act as clues to their perceptions, progress, and outlook."

"The teacher's reply should not be seen as a definitive answer, but as the catalyst for what students do next."

In between speech and silence

(Again, the difficulties of pacing face-to-face conversation can be really complex, especially in a group setting; this is not something I have to grapple with teaching online, although the quality of back-and-forth has its own challenges online too.)

Sent through the ether

"When communication is asynchronous, it becomes increasingly difficult to gauge the reaction of students as they consider and reflect on what they have received. There is also the possibility that students may not read, listen to, or watch the feedback at all. It is essential then that students are motivated to engage with feedback and believe that the comments that teachers provide are meaningful to them and play an active role in supporting and shaping their practice and beliefs."

Typed or annotated files

"Completing an assignment is a form of mastery experience, and when a student submits their assignment, self-efficacy beliefs will range from full confidence to being completely full of doubt."

"Clear writing that directs the student through the stages of learning can impact the student's learning and understanding, allowing growth and a strategic way forward. Those with higher self-efficacy use more critical thinking to find ways of achieving the end result. The comments of a teacher that clearly present these methods can develop beliefs of people with lower self-efficacy by guiding them through the processes that they need to achieve for themselves."

Recorded audio or video files

I'm not really sure I agree here; ALL communication is ambiguous, and tone of voice can be "off" and/or misinterpreted, just as word choice can be. If someone is more confident in their oral rather than their written communication, by all means, use oral! It seems to me the real goal should be to use whatever communication is most likely to be successful for both teacher and student, and that is going to vary a lot from person to person and situation to situation: "There is a personal element in audio files, where the student can hear the inflection, pace, and stresses of the voice, and thus there is less inherent ambiguity than with printed text."

Applications to teaching settings:

Individual settings

"Tutorials should include questioning, listening, responding, and explaining, where both the student and the teacher are involved. It takes a craftsman to use words in a way that lead instead of tell, allowing exploration and discovery without either dictating orders or simply providing the answer."

"Individual tuition allows for some of the most flexible, experimental teaching."

"Giving answers is far easier than facilitating someone's belief, but independence allows that students can and will be able to take learning forward, further building self-efficacy beliefs on their own."

"Teachers who work in artistic or performance subject areas are often more free to use innovative and creative means to communicate in a student-centered manner that engages and challenges their students to simultaneously develop skills and establish their beliefs."

"When the student can make connections using strategic thinking and experimentation, then the persistence and resilience they demonstrate, alongside teacher guidance and support, will build positive self-beliefs about how they can achieve and obtain results."

Seminars

"Considering and understanding the student view and receptiveness to learning and to the situation, to what influenced the student's confidence and self-efficacy, will enable the teacher to make an informed choice about how to give feedback in the most constructive way."

"If something unforeseen shakes the confidence of a student, it does not mean that the unpolished presentation and the ensuing errors can be simply ignored. After that negative experience, the student needs to understand why his or her self-efficacy beliefs were affected and how to move forward."

"This can help the student to correctly attribute the causes of what went wrong and see how to correct this next time in order to solidify self-efficacy beliefs before he or she encounters the task again."

"Where a student is unfazed by a change of venue and remains confident, secure, and even seems to thrive on the newness of the situation, verbal feedback can be used to reinforce the strong sense of self-efficacy."

Large lectures

"The impact on a student's self-efficacy of any learning experiences presented in the lecture can be greatly reduced, as there is the chance that the lecture can be perceived as irrelevant or simply as a fact-gathering session."

"For students to take something positive from the lecture, they need to make the connections. The teacher can still facilitate this, but it is more difficult to react and adapt to each individual."

"Student with a strong sense of self-efficacy may find the situation challenging, and they will find ways to access the content and learn. Whereas for those who already have low self-efficacy, being in a lecture where the culture is to sit and not interrupt can make them feel alone in a crowd of listeners."

"In an applied problem-solving situation, instead of directly announcing the solution, the thinking behind the processes or choices can also be discussed. This allows the student to have examples of how to use metacognition and strategic thinking, and they can then apply the same methods to similar situations when studying on their own."

Taking it further: Interaction with 1000?

Speaking of Michael Sandel's approach to engaging students in lecture setting (see book for details): "He empowers the students, supporting them validating their beliefs, and creating opportunities for them to gain experience where their thoughts are valued and they can communicate successfully. Professor Sandel has cultivated a culture of discussion, and students have come to expect participation."

"Sandel creates an open environment, inviting both sides of any story, and this allows for great interpersonal differences, yet still individuals can maintain and develop a strong self-efficacy for their capabilities to personally contribute and learn."

"Regardless of the group size, learners need to feel and believe that they are invited to participate in their learning."


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Change and Decay

I saw this quote go by at Twitter today and wanted to make it into a poster! The paradox of "architect of decay" really struck me.

He who rejects change is the architect of decay. - Harold Wilson





HumanMOOC convo lives on! Thoughts on connected learning.

Impossibly busy today (yes, connectivist teachers have work to do too!) ... but I am grateful to Matt for carrying on the convo about dual-layer design and instructivist learning: Instructivism vs Connectivism vs Social Learning. His comments and the dual-layer design of #HumanMOOC have been a kind of philosophical catalyst for me, helping me to articulate just why I could not teach in an instructivist environment, and also why I think it is not a good environment to be promoting, especially among higher ed professionals. That first contention is purely personal, but the second one is more programmatic so, with the clock ticking, I am going to use the "5" formula to write up a blog post on this topic before moving on to the day's work: I don't have time to do 10 reasons today, but 5 reasons will be a good start anyway!

So here goes:

1. Instructivism is a highly "school-y" interpretation of learning, driven by the teacher and the institution. Learning, however, must be bigger than school, both formal and informal. Thank goodness children learn to speak through a process of informal connected learning rather than having to depend on school for that! Unfortunately, though, most children learn reading and writing in a disconnected, teacher-driven school environment, and because they do that in a "school-y" way, they often do not even come close to developing their capacities to grow as readers and writers. Why? Because they are put into the artificial environment of instructor-driven learning, rather than student-driven learning that survives and thrives beyond school. I really believe in lifelong learning, and I think the best way to make sure students become lifelong learners is to help them become their own teachers, rather than encouraging them to depend on an institution or an institutional authority figure to organize their learning for them. On that, see this piece by Barbara Fister in IHE just this week: Information Literacy and Recent Graduates: New from PIL.

2. Instructivism obstructs the growth of a learning network. If the teacher is put artificially at the center of the network, that means students are not developing their own expansive learning networks which center on their own needs and expand their own learning pathways. After a class is over, the teacher is gone, and the student is left with... what? If students participate in a network where the center of the network (the teacher) suddenly and completely disappears, that means the network just falls apart at the end of the class. One of the most important goals of education should be, in my opinion, to build a personal learning network that sustains itself, growing and evolving all our lives (and yes, that network is made up of both human agents and other resources, just as Matt says: students need to choose their own books just as much as they need to choose their own co-learners and ad hoc instructors). Instructivism obstructs that process of growth, warping the shape of the student's network for the duration of the teacher-centered class and disrupting the network at the end of the class, so students are ill-prepared after the class is over to keep on learning independently.

3. Connectivism easily encompasses direct instruction; instructivism does not so easily encompass connections. In connected learning, colearning is both natural and expected: we are all teachers, we are all learners. Meanwhile, the instructivist exclusion of colearning was perhaps the most surprising thing for me about the dual-layer approach to HumanMOOC. Matt repeatedly emphasized the need to wall off the instructivist space, protecting it from the outside; that's why a Twitter widget that would bring in the voices from the garden could not be allowed. I was also staggered to learn in the wrap-up that the "wayfinders" (instructors) for the class purposefully shut themselves out of conversations with learners, like Matt saying that he did not participate in the Twitter backchannel for hangouts. Especially in a class like this, where we are all education professionals and colleagues, apparently the force of instructivism was so great as to prevent us from being colearners together, interacting whenever and however we wanted/needed to. I'm glad Maha violated the course design (!) to participate in a hangout with us; we were the richer for her having done so. Does instructivism really mean connections like that between instructors and students as colearners should not happen at all? Ouch.

4. Good learning takes you beyond the comfort zone. One of the most powerful messages for me from Dweck's work on growth mindset is the importance of getting out of the comfort zone, taking risks, experimenting, etc. Matt contends that instructivism represents a real "learning preference" on the part of learners, but is that a real distinction? It seems to me to echo the now discredited "learning styles" rhetoric of years gone by. What I see here instead is something that looks a lot like people wanting to stay inside the comfort zone. People might think they prefer instructivism, but is that just because it has dominated their life in school for years and years (decades for some of us!), conditioning their behaviors and self-image in pervasive ways? My advice to the students in my classes is this: get out of the comfort zone, take some risks, find a good challenge. It's never too late to de-school yourself.

5. David and Goliath. Finally, it seems to me that we have more than enough instructivism already. Even if I did agree with Matt's contention that instructivism and connectivism are equally worthy models of learning (I don't agree; see above), then the current state of education, which is almost entirely dominated by instructivism, would demand that those of us who care about connectivism do everything we can to promote it, taking every opportunity to show both students and other educators that there IS an alternative to the instructivist juggernaut. Instructivism has an enormous force of tradition and inertia that makes it very difficult to dislodge. Given that I only have limited time, energy, and abilities, I prefer to devote my time, energy, and abilities to promoting the educational underdog here ... and, sad to say, connectivism is very much the underdog even in the year 2016.

With the serendipity of a real learning network, this year was very eye-opening for me. I was avoiding MOOCs because of the horrible experience I had in a Coursera course (not only the worst educational experience I have ever had, but the worst online experience also)... but Alan Levine's participation in Connected Courses led me to try a cMOOC, and as a result of all the people I became connected to there, I participated in Rhizo15, and that is what led me to HumanMOOC — and even though HumanMOOC was not what I expected, it has been a clarifying experience (more on my takeaways), and, most important of all, I met some more great people with whom I hope to remain connected in the future. Long live the learning networks and connected learning! :-)






Monday, January 4, 2016

Some thoughts on wrapping up #HumanMOOC

As #HumanMOOC is wrapping up (I hope I can listen in on the wrap-up hangout with the organizers later today; not sure if that will work out or not), I thought I would quickly record some thoughts... super-busy today, so I am going to rely on the "10" list format here to help me along.

1. PEOPLE. I met so many fabulous people, along with reconnecting with people I have met before so that I got to know them better. Meeting new people is always, for me, the best thing about doing these experiences, and I am excited about staying in touch with people after the course. One of the mantras/memes of #Rhizo15 is holding true: Content IS People. And a big THANK YOU to the course organizers and the Twitterati for some really fun moments over the past few weeks!


2. HANGOUTS. I enjoyed the hangouts a lot, especially with the excellent Twitter backchannel activity that left a good trail and also reached out to connect with people not participating in #HumanMOOC. I even participated in a hangout which was fun too, although I have really come to love the backchannel, and I now see that my best contribution is probably being a kind of Twitter scribe for hangouts. That realization gave me a new idea for an #OpenTeachingOU chat style we could try this semester where each of us could pick out a short video to watch (TED-length, RSA, etc.), and for our chat we could watch the videos together and tweet. I need to send a note to my co-organizers for that and see what they think. It would be fun just to see what videos people want to share and watch with others!

3. NETWORKS. My new education in network theory has been launched! I've seen sociograms before, and I enjoyed looking at the work Aras and Gordon did with mapping activity in #Rhizo15 last spring, but I didn't really understand it. Hearing Aras speak in a hangout for #HumanMOOC got me really excited to learn more about this, so I started reading a book I had bought years ago but had not gotten around to reading: LINKED by Albert-László Barabási. What a great book! I am really glad to finally be learning about this.



4. TWITTER. I used Twitter a lot for #HumanMOOC; being in an online learning experience like this always provides a big boost to my Twitter use (normally I use Google+ more than Twitter), and that was really good timing: next week I am doing a Twitter Bootcamp for the Tech Expo at my school, and the good Twitter interactions for #HumanMOOC have convinced me more than ever of the power of this tool for connecting and sharing. I was disappointed that the focus on the LMS reduced the amount of Twitter interaction for #HumanMOOC (esp. since no Twitter presence was allowed inside the LMS because it would violate the walled-off design), and I don't think anybody in #HumanMOOC started using Twitter who was not already a Twitter user (but I could be wrong about that; not sure). I had hoped that the Bootcamp materials could have been useful for #HumanMOOC but with the way the course was designed, that didn't happen. Still, some people did volunteer to be buddies and that was cool; I had fun checking in at the Buddies list to see what they were tweeting separate from #HumanMOOC-tagged tweets.

5. BLOGGING. The blog hub for #HumanMOOC was disappointing compared to Connected Courses and Rhizo — like with Twitter, blog activity was low presumably because of the emphasis on the LMS (more on that below). So, there was very little activity at the blog hub, but I did write some posts, and a couple of them will be useful to me for future use, especially the Cuique Suum one. That is a post I have needed to write for a long time, and I am that the #HumanMOOC conversations prompted to do that.


6. PUBLIC DISCUSSION. My faith in the power of public discussion was really affirmed when Jared Stein from Instructure commented on one of my #HumanMOOC blog posts and shared some of the ideas there with the Instructure design people. My negative feelings about the whole idea of an LMS are even stronger than before, but I really do appreciate the way that people from Instructure participate in public discussions like this (Brian Whitmer had commented on a similar post last year, etc.). It is the importance of open, public discussion that makes me despair about the closed-by-default / closed-by-design approach that drives LMS culture ... and it really is a culture problem, not a technology problem at this point (more on that below). My personal belief is that we need to be doing everything we can to help faculty experiment with spaces outside the LMS, especially since the LMS remains solidly the default at school after school after school. So, at least for me, helping people see beyond the LMS is incredibly important, unlike the "it's all awesome" mantra of #HumanMOOC design and its emphasis on the LMS (which understandably drifts into LMS-by-default as many people will opt for something familiar that they feel confident about already rather than trying something totally new).

7. THE UNSOCIAL LMS. Ever since the advent of a truly social web (Facebook-Twitter-etc.), I have been more and more frustrated by the anti-social structure of LMSes; even though there are great models for connected learning in spaces like Twitter which have person-centered streams and hashtag intersections, none of that has made an impact in LMS design from what I can see. The LMS at my school is D2L and it is extremely unsocial, so I was curious to see what Canvas would be like — that was actually a big factor in deciding to participate in #HumanMOOC (instead of doing a coding challenge for December as I had planned). I had tried out Canvas years ago, and I really appreciated at that time how course content could be totally open on the Internet with real webpages, no log-in, etc. (the test pages I put up when I was exploring Canvas years ago are still online!). So, given that Canvas allowed open content on the Internet in a way that set it apart from other LMSes, I was hoping that they had also embraced the increasing importance of the social Internet for building connected learning experiences. Sadly, that appears not to be the case; the profile pages, the notifications, the inability to create a social network inside a course space by mentions and/or follows... these were all big disappointments. I had hoped for better from Canvas, although it is also possible that Canvas has some social options we did not use in #HumanMOOC because of the specific design goals for the LMS layer.

8. PEDAGOGICAL PONDERING. I also realized through some back-and-forth with the #HumanMOOC developers, especially Matt, that this dual-layer design is something that just does not work for me, and it was very thought-provoking to ponder a model that for me is so uncongenial. I was curious about it initially because I thought the garden-stream metaphor was the same as the idea put forward in Mike Caulfield's technopastoral piece, but after a couple of weeks I realized the stream-garden metaphor in #HumanMOOC was really not like Mike's usage of those terms at all, especially the "stream" side. I had found Mike's ideas fascinating and also challenging since his notion of the person-centered stream expresses the kind of pedagogy that I do work with (student learning in blog streams), while #Rhizo15 had enlightened me about the many implications of the "garden" metaphor, and that is the direction I hope to take my classes in the years to come. Mike's concerns about the limitations of person-centered streams are something I think about a lot, and blog aggregation (my basic approach) is not even close to making a garden, being truly rhizomatic, etc. So while #HumanMOOC really did not give me any pedagogical strategies to borrow or adapt, it did get me to start thinking again about Mike's garden-stream ideas, and that was very useful... and now I am really hoping we will have a #Rhizo again in 2016. I will be bringing a big list of questions to ponder the second time around!

9. STUDENT PRESENCE. In terms of my inability to engage with #HumanMOOC pedagogically, it basically came down to the emphasis on instructor presence rather than student presence. The real challenge as I see it is how to build a course with strong student presence, where the instructor's role becomes to support and interconnect the students as the class network evolves (which is why learning about network theory is going to be so useful for me!). Yes, that means I believe in connected learning, and I see the instructor's role as being instrumental only insofar as it creates and sustains the students' presence, which means both their presence to one another and also their reflective self-presence as they build their own learning paths. #HumanMOOC focused more on optimizing instructor presence rather than prioritizing student presence, and the LMS itself is instructor-centered with poor opportunities for building student presence (which means limited opportunities to learn how to build student presence in our own courses). So, for future reference, I now know that I should not try any more MOOCs in which activity is being siphoned off into the closed and non-student-centered space of a traditional LMS; I'll count that as an important lesson learned (I had the same experience with the NextThought Power of Connections MOOC last summer which also attempted a dual-layer design although it did not use that term).

10. CREATE. SHARE. ENJOY. BE YOURSELF. One of my best takeaways for #HumanMOOC came at the very end with a game that Andy proposed at Twitter with a funky and fun hashtag: #HumanizedElearningIn5Words. Twitter games like that are so much fun, and I wish more people had played — and hey, you can still do that if anybody has braved their way to the end of this blog post. Anyway, I am happy with my five word combo, and in response Andy shared back this fabulous cat meme I had not seen before: pizza cat! This is a cat I will definitely be using again. :-)


THANKS AGAIN TO EVERYBODY I MET IN HUMANMOOC,
AND THANKS FOR ALL THE SHARING OF STUFF!