Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Dust to Digits: Writing Our Stories Through Family Photographs

I wrote this post as a guest contribution for Digital Writing Month. I hope it will inspire you to to reach back in time, learn a new story about yourself, write, and share.

 Each photograph is read as the private appearance of its referent: the age of Photography corresponds rather precisely to the explosion of the private into the public, or rather into the creation of new social value, which is the publicity of the private: the private is consumed as such, publicly.”      – Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, p. 98

When I was a little girl, my mother often shared her old family photographs with me. The photographs were stored in a tin trunk under my parents’ bed. Kneeling on the floor, pulling out that trunk, cracking it open, and unleashing the musty scent contained inside became our ritual for initiating our travel through time. My mom, a first-generation born American who was born to two German immigrants, would share stories about her family members. 

Photographs were especially important to my mom, as she experienced the tragic loss of her sister and only sibling at the age of 39 and the sudden passing of her mother just two years later. Looking at and sharing stories about the images imprinted on the old torn piece of paper was — and still is — her way of visiting her loved ones. There was a palpable connection between my mom and the time and space of the fading figures portrayed in the images, it was as if the photographs had a magical ability to collapse time for her.

We repeated this tradition numerous times throughout my childhood, often with my two sisters. I also ventured into the tin box on my own sometimes, gazing into the fading eyes of relatives who I had never met. Over time, the photographs became familiar to me; yet, there was one that I secretly treasured more than the others. It was a small, sepia-toned image printed on cardstock (known as a carte de visite). It measured about 2” by 3”. The corners were torn and the surface of the image was heavily scratched. On the back, my mother had written the name of my maternal great grandmother in pen, but aside from that there were no identifying marks on the print.

Despite the ambiguity of the photograph’s context, this image resonated with me. “You are my great grandmother,” I used to think to myself, as if she were there in the room with me. My great grandmother lived in Germany until the age of 99 and passed away when I was quite young. I never met her. I would scour the surface of that image with my eyes, in a desperate quest to know her. I wanted so much to find that “something” that would transport me from the floor of my parents’ bedroom to that moment she stood in front of the camera’s lens.

Through this search, I recall admiring her appearance. I wondered if I’d be fortunate enough to grow into the beautiful woman she was. I would gaze at her dress and imagine what the fabric felt like and what color it was. I resented the scratches that removed the details of her face, as I believed that’s where her essence would be revealed to me. Yet, I never found what I searched for in that photograph.

A photograph's punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me). -Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, pp. 26-27

At some point through the years, however, my mother shared more about my great grandmother that transformed how I related to that photograph and, ultimately, how I understood myself. There was an old postcard mixed in with the photos in the trunk that had a message composed in hand-written script on the back, which I could not read — and neither could my mother. She explained that it was a postcard my great grandmother wrote to her husband (my great grandfather) during World War I, sometime after he left for battle. It was postmarked August 16, 1915. My mother also pointed out a phrase, written more rigidly in red ink in the blank space near the postmark stamp. One word was decipherable: “gefallen” with the date August 25, 1915 just below. Gefallen. The German word for “killed in action.”

I imagined my great grandmother writing that postcard by candlelight, after getting her five young daughters settled into bed for the night.  I imagined the care it took to write in such detailed, beautiful German script (known as Sütterlin). I imagined her taking the time to be sure the ink had dried. And I imagined her slipping the postcard into a cloth mailbag, picturing it arriving in her husband’s warm hands. 

While I don’t know the details of how the situation actually occurred, I also imagined how she must have felt upon receiving the returned postcard, a love letter transformed into a death notice. I imagine how she went about her life after that moment. How that experience transformed her, made her reach inside and embrace the strength she didn’t know she had. I imagine how that strength was transferred to her five young daughters, now fatherless, in war-torn Germany. “War hero” meant something very different to me from that moment on.

After learning of that story, I never looked at the photograph of my great grandmother the same again. Her body, once a graceful representation of female beauty, conveyed power and pride. The scratches on the surface and the torn corners were less of a nuisance from that point. Instead, I related to them as footprints tracing a long, arduous journey. I wondered where the photograph had been and who had held it. I wondered about photographs that I didn’t have access to and others that were never taken.
But that wasn’t all that changed for me. I also began to relate to myself differently. As I grew up, I felt the strength of my great grandmother inside myself. Knowing her story and imagining what her life experiences were like empowered me to know I too was strong. I wasn’t just a “pretty little girl;” I was her great granddaughter. And my mother was her granddaughter. And my grandmother was one of those little girls tucked in bed as she wrote that postcard. While I have had many empowering experiences in my lifetime, this story opened a new way of understanding where I came from, who I was, and what I could do.  

Personal photographs are like treasures. They document our past and connect us with those who lived before us. However, the stories we associate with a photograph construct the way we relate to it and the way we remember and value the subject(s) rendered upon its surface.
In our digital age, any photograph — no matter how old — can become a liquid photograph, enabling us to share stories with the world through blog posts, like this one. This is an ideal strategy for engaging students in the process of writing, because the process of writing fades away and becomes invisible when our efforts are focused on sharing a story. Last year, I sent my online community college students on a “Photo Quest.” One of the topics from which they chose was titled, “Who am I?” This topic’s task was to excavate a story from their past through a conversation with a family member about an old photograph (an alternative topic was provided for students who did not have access to family photographs and/or family members). One of my students shared this story about a photograph of him and his sister, each clutching a toy. The photograph led to a conversation with his mom, which unearthed a story about his first day of kindergarten in Tijuana, Mexico. Before that Photo Quest, he had no memory of attending kindergarten in Mexico. That event was, as he wrote, “something that was just swept under the rug, not really a secret, but just never mentioned and eventually just forgotten.” 

Connecting our formalized curriculum with our students’ real-world experiences is fundamental to ensure learning is relevant. Using old photographs to connect students with the past is not only a great strategy for engaging students, it’s also way to excavate the marginalized stories from the past that will otherwise be forgotten.

An Inspiration: Make Writing … Digital

Search around those old boxes or file cabinets, and dig out some old photographs. What stories simmer beneath the surface of the visual? What stories do they tell? What stories can you tell about the stories they tell? Consider perusing the United States Library of Congress collections of historical photographs, or find out if your own country of origin has its own collection. What do photos say about the country?

We hope you will share your work across the various Digital Writing Month spaces that you inhabit. That could be right here at the Digital Writing Month blog; at your own blog or writing space; on Twitter with the #DigiWriMo hashtag; in the DigiWriMo Google Plus Community; at the DigiWriMo Facebook page; or wherever you find yourself writing digitally.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

New Threaded Comments in VoiceThread

The long wait is over...and the irony of the Voice"Thread" name has been put to rest! VoiceThread has released the following new commenting options.
  • Direct reply. This feature enables only the owner of a VoiceThread to leave a direct reply to any comment left in that VoiceThread. A direct reply appears as a regular comment, but is inserted directly after the selected comment. This eliminates the need for an instructor to "move" a comment into proper sequence. Students do not have the ability to leave direct replies. Click here for more information about Direct Replies.
  • Private reply. All users with access to a VoiceThread may leave private replies in response to a comment. This will be particularly useful for sharing important feedback to students that isn't appropriate for a group setting. Click here for more information about Private Replies.
  • Threaded comments. This feature is turned off by default. It can be enabled in a VoiceThread in the playback settings.  To leave a Threaded comment, click the comment to which you want to reply and click the threaded icon. Threaded comments are represented by a circle instead of the usual rounded rectangle. Threads cannot be built off of threads. Click here to learn more about Threaded Comments.
These are new to me too, so I created a VoiceThread so we can try them out together. Feel free to participate in the VoiceThread above (this will require you to log-in to your existing VT account or create a free one).

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Making Sense of Higher Ed: #DLRN15 Reflections

Last week, I attended the Digital Learning Resource Network conference #DLRN15 at Stanford University with my colleague, Jill Leafstedt. It was a very worthy experience and I'm processing a lot of ideas right now. With a couple of days of distance, I am now sensing what my most important takeaways are -- at least for the moment.

The Hidden Curriculum

We still use the term "non-traditional student" to refer to individuals enrolled in higher education who do not fit the classic "student" model:  full-time student, residential status, 18-24 years old. Looking out over the higher education enrollment demographics, these students are now the minority. Not earth shattering news. However, each of us must examine what this means within our own institution. A professor at Stanford, for example, and an instructor at a community college will have different relationships with the needs of non-traditional students, because the proportion of them in their classes will be different.
At DLRN, Marcia Devlin shared an exceptional presentation that uncovered the ways higher education incorporates invisible barriers that interfere with the success of non-traditional students. These barriers are constructed through the gaps between students' and faculty cultural currency (the skills they arrive with, which are informed by their socio-economic status). In other words, a first-generation college student from a working class background may feel prepared for a class and be ready to apply herself, but not have the same access to criteria for completing work successfully.  For example, when she receives an assignment in a general education course to write an essay in APA format that is written in a scholarly voice, will she understand how to apply these criteria in the same way other students may?

Devlin termed these barriers "hidden curriculum," which was a new term for me. Honestly, I found myself reflecting deeply on my own experience as a student in higher education. My first memory was from a Romanesque to Gothic art history course in graduate school. As a grad student, I felt like I should be achieving at a higher level than the undergraduates in the class with me. I was keeping up with my reading but found myself sitting through my professor's lectures with complete confusion about what he was talking about. I recall him referencing a person named "Soojay," which I kept writing down in my notes (by this point, I learned that without taking prolific notes during lecture, I would not retain a thing -- another gap).  I would go home and pour over my book to locate any reference to this "Soojay" figure.  Then -- literally after about a week of time -- it hit me. He was referring to "Suger" (an important character in the historical development of Gothic architecture in France) but was using the French pronunciation. Ugh. I felt utterly stupid. This gap derailed me quite a bit and the fact that this memory from nearly twenty years ago came back to me instantly (along with lots of other memories too) as I listened to Devlin, says a lot about the imprint it left on me.
When we teach online, Devlin pointed out, these barriers may be even more difficult for learners to resolve, as students are less able to lean over to a fellow student and ask, "Hey, are you getting what she means by that?"  And as we know from our own experiences, most students are not willing to ask for clarification in a classroom setting either.

Social and Affective Aspects of Learning

The other theme that I'm reflecting on is the number of research projects shared at DLRN15 that were examining the social and affective aspects of student learning. This was also refreshing to me, as I've been exploring a similar thread in my Learning Out Loud research (about how participating in asynchronous voice conversations impacts students on a cognitive, affective, and social level).  What I was not happy about, however, was the strict reliance upon textual data to examine affective and social dimensions of learning. I understand text is more "accessible" than voice when it comes to data analysis; however, how can we rely upon textual cues to determine when students are feeling confused, stressed, disconnected, anxious, frustrated? I look forward to seeing data in the form of voice and video be integrated into the future studies of the social and affective aspects of learning.

Including Community Colleges

Last, but not least, I felt a sense of community at this conference that I don't normally feel at events that incorporate an international audience from higher education. This time, representatives from the California Community College Online Education Initiative (OEI) were in attendance. The CCC system serves just over 2 million students and is the largest system of higher education in the country. Nearly 27% of these students enroll in at least one distance education course, up from 12.5% in 2005-2006. Yet, it's rare to bump into my CCC colleagues at conferences that aren't specifically set up for that system.

Pat James, Executive Director of the OEI, participated in several presentations to showcase the work of the OEI team, which is focused on creating a way for CCC students to locate and complete the bottle-necked courses online that they need, in a streamlined fashion.  The OEI team has developed new online student support resources and shared them with a CC-license for others to easily re-use, and is integrating professional development (via @ONE) and instructional design support for faculty (which is lacking from the faculty support services offered at individual colleges the system).
"Higher education" events really need to be more focused on bringing together representatives from 2-year and 4-year colleges. Local/regional/statewide systems, especially, need to be crafting ways to connect, share, and learn from one another. While 52% of students who graduate from the CSU system started at a CA Community College, I am dismayed at the lack of collaboration between the CCC and CSU systems and as I return to my day-to-day work, I am reflecting deeply on this gap and what effects it has on our state and on our students -- because they are all our students.  Not ours and theirs -- just ours.

DLRN15 provided opportunities to address tensions and conflict within higher education. I can only speak for myself, but I believe this is not only important but essential to "make sense of higher education." Thank you to the wonderful coordinators of DLRN15 (who I will not list, as I will miss someone important) and thank you to Laura Pasquini for encouraging me to attend.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Straddling the Chasm: Rethinking Faculty Support

Today I had the honor and pleasure to share a keynote presentation at the NUTN Annual Conference (#NUTN15) in Savannah, GA. NUTN (National University Technology Network) originally started in 1982 as a group of representatives from institutions delivering distance learning through tele-courses. This was my first time attending a NUTN conference and it was a fantastic experience! There were a few familiar faces in my audience (Alex Pickett, John Sener, Christi Ford, Deb Adair) and I have enjoyed making many new connections.

Prior to my session, I attended a presentation by MJ Bishop and Anne Keehn, who shared the results of a national survey about the impact of Teaching and Learning Centers. Their findings show a significant trend underway in higher education organizations that connects Centers of Teaching and Learning with efforts to bring about organizational change. In short, the findings underscore the pertinent role that the intersection of learning and technology play in organizational transformation.

While the findings weren't surprising to me, it was refreshing to see this trend highlighted and recognized as a significant shift. During the presentation, I recalled a memory from one of my previous positions in which I suggested renaming the faculty support group I was a part of to a name that included "learning" and "innovations." My idea was returned with a cold, blank stare and the comment, "That sounds like a group that would get eliminated in the next budget cut." It's good to see times are changing in higher education.

But the changes that Teaching and Learning Centers are tasked with are deep-rooted organizational changes, which conflict with organizational cultures and histories. The most talented TLC staff cannot bring about this type of change on their own.  In her presentation Dr. Keehn shared that organizations spend $9B annually on organizational change consultants.  She wanted to break that statistic out for her study to understand how much of that spending occurs in higher education -- but, apparently, data is not collected for higher education because no money is spent on it (citation needed). This leaves me with a far greater understanding and appreciation of the conflict and tensions experienced by so many who are in roles that connect learning and technology.

The presentation I shared today was a new for me. It was an exciting opportunity to try to bring together several ideas I've been contemplating with findings from my dissertation study and another recent study I conducted with Jill Leafstedt and Jaimie Hoffman. The title of my presentation was Straddling the Chasm: Rethinking Faculty Support (slide deck also embedded above) and its focus was on investigating the gap between the support needs of higher education faculty and the types and formats of support that are provided today. For example, 80% of higher education faculty are contingent employees (part-time or graduate assistants); yet, at 9 out of 10 institutions faculty who teach online are required to come to campus for online professional development. Sitting in a room with peers listening to a conversation about effective online teaching strategies does not immerse faculty in the online learning experience, which is the only way to have a person learn the potential and power of an excellent online class. But that is not the only problem with this model. Many faculty who are part-time teach at multiple institutions, some which may be located hundreds or thousands of miles from campus. This is just one disconnect in motion today with faculty support. Our models of faculty support are out-dated remnants of machine-age thinking and we are missing rich opportunities for collaborative solutions. We must begin to understand each higher education institutions as members of a complex ecosystem. Each is an organic system that is in a continuous state of change and very much affected by its exterior situation. 

Another of my goals for the presentation was to encourage my audience members to relate to how it feels to a faculty member at the various stages in the diffusion of innovation. I showed the great graphic from Phil Hill and Michael Feldstein that illustrates faculty on both sides of ed tech chasm and had each person in the room identify themselves with one of the groups illustrated in the image. Then we discussed how it feels to "straddle the chasm." And to support this experience, I referenced the powerful comment George Station shared with me on Google+ about his own experience straddling the chasm (see slide 3 of my prez). There were many nods shared during the presentation.

This is an ongoing conversation and research topic for me and it's one I feel very committed to. I truly believe that our social era is rich with opportunities to transform the traditional model of faculty support and, I also believe, that faculty who are early adopters and innovators are those who will lead this change and encourage others to jump across the chasm.  I feel proud and excited about the my team at CSU Channel Islands is doing as we strive to support both sides of the chasm with online professional development and CI Keys.

Many thanks to the NUTN Board for inviting me to speak in beautiful Savannah today! I will enjoy my evening ghost tour before I head back to California. Brooohahahaha!!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Lecture: A Cultural Construction of Privilege?

It's been quite awhile since I've read an article that has inspired me to write a post on a Sunday afternoon. But today, I saw a link to an article in my Nuzzel feed titled "Is the lecture unfair?" and it piqued my interest. This recent article from the New York Times discusses findings from recent studies that show how lectures privilege students who come from privileged backgrounds. The author, Annie Murphy Paul, explains, 
"...a growing body of evidence suggests that the lecture is not generic or neutral, but a specific cultural form that favors some people while discriminating against others, including women, minorities and low-income and first-generation college students. This is not a matter of instructor bias; it is the lecture format itself — when used on its own without other instructional supports — that offers unfair advantages to an already privileged population.
The idea that lectures create a biased learning environment that privileges certain students is not surprising to me -- and it may not be surprising to you either. If you are familiar with my work, you've likely read other posts where I examine this notion. However, to see studies that excavate the lecture as a method of teaching that reinforces social inequities is worthy of discussion. The article reminded me of a video presentation I made back in 2011 titled "Expanding the Funnel," which connected the flipped classroom model (a form of active learning) as a strategy for increasing degree attainment rates in community colleges (which saw an enrollment explosion in 2010-11, the time of the U.S. economic downturn). 

Community colleges have an open access policy, which means everyone one is welcome. They are the gateway to higher education in the United States and, as such, community college students are the most diverse group of learners in higher education. It is not uncommon for a single community college class to include students from multiple generations, ethnic minorities, first generation college students, ESL learners, students with cognitive differences (dyslexia, dysgraphia, etc.), and students with physical disabilities. This diversity creates a powerful, fertile soil for students to learn from each others' experiences. However, not all instructors use active-learning strategies in their classes and, as such, the learning environments that students confront while in college are not as inclusive as the open-access mission of CCs.  Often, when I've discussed this topic with my peers, I've heard professors note that active learning does students who wish to transfer to a 4-year a "disservice," because it doesn't provide them with the skills needed to excel in the lecture environment.

Let's keep this conversation going. It's time to start examining the broader, social implications of pedagogy on degree attainment in higher education. All students are capable of learning and obtaining a college degree. Let's support all of them.

Finally, we must not cast blame on faculty. We need to support faculty to understand how the way they teach a class impacts the percentage of students who experience deep learning.  Active learning is one step towards a more inclusive classroom.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What is Open Pedagogy

word cloud - open pedagogy
Eight Qualities of Open Pedagogy, a word cloud created with Tagul.com
This post was originally published on Teaching and Learning Innovations @CI.

Chances are, you are familiar with the concept of "open content," but "open pedagogy" has not yet made its way into mainstream conversations about teaching and learning. Open content, of course, refers to digital resources that have been shared online with a license that both permits and encourages re-use and sharing within the limits of the license's specifications. Many open resources are shared today with a Creative-Commons license.

Open pedagogy, on the other hand, describes the experiences of learners who engage in an experience through the open web. The non-linear, dynamic, and networked characteristics of the open web fully inform the qualities of open pedagogy. Take a close look at the word cloud above -- it is comprised of words from the Eight Qualities of Open Pedagogy, a helpful description that was collaboratively written by Rob Reynolds, Laura Gibbs, and Stacy Zemke (as a result of a Twitter exchange). (If you would like to comment on or contribute to the "Eight Qualities of Open Pedagogy," visit this post on Google+.)

One of the factors that prevents open pedagogy from becoming more prevalent in higher education is the mainstream adoption of Learning Management Systems (Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas, Desire 2 Learn, etc.) by colleges and universities. An LMS is a closed environment that creates a walled-off space for instructors to select and share content with students, student to interact with other students, and where content that gets created by students is withheld from the world's eyes and comments. The qualities of learning in an LMS, are informed this environment. Agency, risk, creativity, unpredictability, empowerment -- these are characteristics of open pedagogy that are much tougher to cultivate in an LMS.

Those who don't jump will never fly. Photo By Kodomut CC-BY

 I began teaching online about eleven years ago and this semester will be my first time teaching in the public web. While I have integrated web-based tools into my LMS for many years, I have sought out technologies that provide a secure space for my students -- spaces that mimic the environment created by an LMS (but with improved functionality and ease of use).

In the past five years, my own professional and personal life have been impacted enormously by my own active participation in the open web. I have cultivated a professional learning network comprised of educators from around the world whom I learn with continuously. I have participated in conversations with strangers that have left me pondering deeply about issues for weeks. I have deep, meaningful professional relationships with people I have never met face-to-face. Perhaps the most special experiences that emerge from my participation in the open web are the beautiful, precious messages I receive upon occasion from people I don't know who write just to let me know how much they have learned from me.

At last, this semester, I am embarking upon my first journey into open pedagogy. I will be co-teaching a course at CI on Digital Citizenship (UNIV 349) with my colleague, Jill Leafstedt. Over the summer, we worked together to develop our course site, which was built with WordPress on CI Keys. This site was inspired by the work of our former colleague, Jaimie Hoffman, who dove into open courses a year ago. The students in our class will also be creating their own sites on CI Keys and engaging with their peers and the public in an open conversation about the challenges upon which they will embark this term.

Most of the dialogue I have engaged with about open pedagogy has focused on the student experience. Today, as I prepare for the start of the semester, I am thinking deeply about the impact of open pedagogy on teachers. First, I know in my heart that I would not be making this leap if I did not believe that participation is the best way to prepare oneself for personal and professional fulfillment in a social, mobile society. I am excited to be part of this experience with my students, watch them find their own networks, develop their own voices, and experience the impact their voice can have on the world. Secondly, I recognize that I would not be embarking upon open pedagogy if it were not for the willingness of so many other educators who have placed themselves in vulnerable positions to take risks, experiment, and share their practices. And, third, the support for innovation that is woven into the culture at CSU Channel Islands is a critical factor that continues to inspire me to try new things that are in the best interests of students.

I hope more educators at institutions around the world will be encouraged and supported to jump.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Transforming Faculty Support through Co-Creation

In 2007, I began integrating web-based technologies into my online and face-to-face classes. In the years that followed, I discovered new ways to engage my students, learned how technology can support more diverse groups of learners, and grew into a passionate supporter of online and blended learning. Along the way, I've learned a lot and have shared many of my experiences with other faculty. These experiences have led me to several observations about the value of faculty support in higher education at this time of momentous change and the need to transform how we think about and develop faculty support.

Like too many faculty, when I began using web-based technologies in my teaching, I did not have access to faculty support. Those who do commonly have services provided to them through face-to-face workshops and consultations. This boutique model of faculty support relies upon an institution to employ individuals who are capable of and have the time to develop resources to support the needs of all faculty. As faculty needs diversify and the demographics of faculty change (more part-time and remote instructors with less access to campus), this model becomes less effective. The boutique model is a remnant of industrial-age thinking and is no longer sustainable in today's social era. The recent increase in the integration of technology into learning, growth in online and blended course enrollments, and shifts in faculty demographics are increasing the need to transform the boutique model of faculty support.

A New Higher Ed Ecosystem

This is not a new problem; however, little change has occurred since the conversation began more than a decade ago (Walkowiak, 2003; Hartman, Dziuban & Brophy-Ellison 2007). Consequently, the composition of the higher education ecosystem has experienced striking changes. As more faculty integrate web-based tools into their teaching, the educational technology companies developing these tools co-exist alongside colleges and universities in an ecosystem. This idea triggers skepticism and tension for many within higher education. Critical dialogue is important. The recent boom in venture funding for startups has resulted in steep competition in the startup space, as well as a higher risk for failure, and more companies out to make a buck. Through grassroots leadership, faculty will determine which tools are effective and worthy of growth and traction.

Co-Created Faculty Support Resources

Teaching with technology can be a catalyst for change in a faculty member's career, as it was for me.  But for many faculty, integrating technology into a classroom can surface concern, fear, frustration, and require subject matter experts to step into a very vulnerable situation. This is where support comes in. To inspire new approaches in teaching and learning, the culture of an organization must support risk-taking and build community for faculty innovators. Services and resources are central to supporting faculty, but supporting the social and emotional experiences involved with change are too.
As we move forward into the future of higher education, institutional leaders will need to focus more on cultivating a culture of innovation and find more sustainable solutions for developing resources and services.  Co-creation is a model that has grown out of the collaborative nature of our social era and may hold potential for transforming how faculty support resources are developed. In co-creation, individuals from different groups come together -- for example, a company and its customers -- to identify solutions to a problem that members of all groups have a shared interest in improving. Innovations in teaching and learning are at the center of improving higher education and, as such, colleges, universities, and edtech companies share an interest in providing support resources and services to faculty who teach with technology.

To inspire co-creation, edtech companies must cultivate relationships with their early adopter faculty users and faculty must acknowledge how valuable their input is to improving the technologies they use. These relationships act as formative feedback loops to ensure their experiences are understood and valued within the product development life cycle. In these interactions, the value of the product will be defined and examples of how to effectively teach with the tool will be discovered. These practices must be showcased and shared with educators across institutional boundaries -- and, yes, faculty should be compensated for the value they provide.

From 2012-2013, I negotiated a consultancy with VoiceThread, an educational technology company, that resulted in the development of co-created faculty support resources.  This position provided me with the opportunity to host a monthly higher ed webinar series. The live webinars (which are available in archived form) consisted of demonstrations of my own VoiceThread teaching practices and those of other faculty around the nation, who I located through my social networks. After a year, I self-published an eBook that contextualized the use of VoiceThread in learning theory, discussed instructional design strategies, and detailed specific teaching activities from my classes. The eBook incorporated links to brief videos, illustrating the practices discussed in textual form, as well as screenshots of examples.

The webinar series and eBook were mutually beneficial to myself (providing me with income and the opportunity to share my ideas and those of other faculty) and the VoiceThread organization (whose product was demonstrated to be effective by a credible source). In turn, faculty across the nation and beyond have accessed these co-created faculty support resources and learned from them.
If you are an innovative faculty using emerging technologies, think like an entrepreneur.  Share your stuff, preferably with a Creative Commons license to encourage re-sharing.  Develop relationships with the edtech organizations that develop the tools you use. Provide feedback -- honest feedback -- about how the product could be improved. As these relationships mature, propose to develop sustainable faculty support resources that showcase your work, the products you use, and support faculty across institutions.

In my next post, I will discuss the potential of co-created eBooks to support faculty. Drawing upon findings from my recent study, the post will provide a list of features to include in eBooks intended to support faculty who teach with emerging technologies.


Hartman, J. H., Dziuban, C., & Brophy-Ellison, J. (2007). Faculty 2.0. EDUCAUSE Review. 42(5) 62-76.

Walkowiak, S. (2003). Training Busy Faculty; Developing Scalable Training Solutions. In D. Lassner & C. McNaught (Eds.), Proceedings of EdMedia: World Conference on Educational Media and Technology 2003 (pp. 2057-2059). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). Retrieved July 30, 2015 from http://www.editlib.org/p/14144.

Monday, July 27, 2015

5 Ways to Support Faculty who Teach with Emerging Technologies

"We must support both sides of the chasm." -Phil Hill
As online and blended learning reshapes the landscape of teaching and learning in higher education, the need to encourage and support faculty to move from delivering passive, teacher-centered experiences to designing active, student-centered learning increases.  Our new social era is rich with simple, free to low-cost emerging technologies that are increasing experimentation and discovery in the scholarship of teaching and learning. While the literature about Web 2.0 tools are impacting teaching and learning is increasing, there is a lack of knowledge about how the adoption of these technologies is impacting the support needs of higher education faculty. This knowledge is essential to develop new, sustainable faculty support solutions.

Driven by my own experiences as a full-time and part-time faculty and early adopter of VoiceThread -- a Web 2.0 tool that fosters asynchronous voice, video, and text conversations around media -- I designed my dissertation research study to investigate the how the use of Web 2.0 tools is impacting the support needs of higher education faculty. I performed this action research study in collaboration with the VoiceThread organization with the purpose of improving the support needs of their higher education users.

The study's sample included 50 higher education faculty members, comprised of a mix of part-time and full-time faculty from 2-year and 4-year institutions in the United States with a VoiceThread account (free, an individual Higher Ed account, or a site license). The interview and reflection data revealed unique support needs of faculty who teach with emerging technologies, a growing demographic. These include:
  1. Just-in-time resources. Faculty support programs comprised of face-to-face workshops and consultations will not meet the needs of faculty. The issues underlying this finding are related to the significant changes in the demographics of faculty. Today, most classes are taught by part-time faculty and many of these individuals also have a full-time job and teach at multiple institutions. Online resources that can be accessed from anywhere at anytime from multiple devices are essential to supporting innovations in teaching and learning.
  2. Non-linear PD experiences. Faculty who adopt new technologies desire non-linear professional development experiences to support the integration of technology into their classes. Faculty noted that accessing an eBook to learn new strategies to teach with VoiceThread was "less risky" than spending the time in a workshop, as the eBook provided non-linear pathways, allowing a faculty member to engage with the topics that align best with her/his needs.
  3. Community. The adoption of emerging technologies by faculty is resulting in pockets of innovation on campus. As a result, faculty who integrate emerging technologies into their teaching feel isolated from their peers. Professional learning networks designed to connect faculty and promote sharing of practices and ideas will be key to supporting faculty. Social technologies like Twitter, Hangouts on Air, and Google+ Communities will continue to play important roles in connecting faculty innovators across campuses.
  4. Funding for accounts. The freemium model employed by most edtech companies provides faculty with a low-barrier entrance and encourages experimentation. However, as the adoption cycle for Web 2.0 tools matures, many faculty are finding themselves paying out of pocket for the premium version(s) of their tool(s) of choice. While will need to consider new funding approaches for supporting faculty within these pockets of innovation. 
  5. LMS integration. Learning Management Systems (LMSs) remain the most pervasively used technology in higher education. Learning Technologies Interoperability (LTI) is an industry standard that provides a simple way for web-based technologies to integrate with major LMSs. offering streamlined teaching experiences that may eliminate the need for students to create accounts and provide the ability to grade the activity inside the LMS. Faculty see LTI integration as an opportunity to save them time and promote more adoption across campus. However, faculty have the perception that administration want to see strong adoption rates prior to considering an LMS integration. This tension is evidence that faculty use of web-based tools is reshaping the teaching and learning landscape.
Faculty support must be understood as a dynamic process that needs to adapt to the changing needs of instructors. Colleges, universities, and edtech companies exist within a new edtech ecosystem. Organizations within this ecosystem have a shared interest in supporting faculty who teach with emerging technologies.  In my next post, I will discuss the potential that co-created faculty support resources hold for providing continuous support for faculty, as well as empowering instructors to be leaders in teaching and learning innovations. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Reflections on Teaching in the Public Web

Photo by Jim Brekke, CC-BY-NC-ND
This semester marks two milestones in my teaching career. First, I am stepping away from teaching the History of Photography online at Mt. San Jacinto College, a community college in California, and will be team teaching a critical thinking course for transfer students at CSU Channel Islands with my colleague, Jill Leafstedt. Our class will be a blended format with Jill on-site at CI and me in a remote role. Secondly, Jill and I will be using WordPress to create our course and our students will create their own blogs in CI Keys. CI Keys originated last year as a pilot project at CSU Channel Islands, inspired by a keynote presentation Jim Groom delivered at ET4Online 2014, Reclaiming Learning: A Domain of One's Own (his presentation starts at 6:37).

This change is significant for me, as it represents a move away from teaching with tools that construct a secured "shell" in which students contribute and interact, toward facilitating learning in the public web (the Keys). In this post, I reflect on how this shift is significant to me, in my teaching role as well as my faculty support role, and examine the influences that have shaped my choices to use particular tools over time.

I started teaching online in 2003 and, at the time, Blackboard was the only tool I used. In 2007, the year I started this blog, I began to incorporate the use of tools outside of Blackboard into my class. This decision was driven by my desire to make my students' learning relevant, active, and inclusive. This core value has not changed for me. However, over the years, the tools I teach with have fluctuated.  As I reflect on this topic, I recognize a growing gap between  my "espoused theory" and my "theory-in-use," two theories of action from the work of Chris Argyris, explained in the quote below:
"When someone is asked how he would behave under certain circumstances, the answer he usually gives is his espoused theory of action for that situation. This is the theory of action to which he gives allegiance, and which, upon request, he communicates to others. However, the theory that actually governs his actions is this theory-in-use" (Argyris and Schön 1974: 6-7).
Argyris' work points out that the actions of individuals are guided by mental maps that inform what we think, feel, and choose to do.  Most people do not recognize the impact of these mental models on their actions and, as a result, can be unaware when a significant gap develops between an espoused theory and a theory-in-use.  These concepts can be applied at an individual level, as well as an organizational level.  As I look back over the past 8 year or so, I recognize a gap between the values I set for my teaching and my actions.

A few years into in my online teaching career, around 2007, I started using blogs with my students. I was quickly intrigued by the potential blogs held to engage students in reflection, stimulate peer-to-peer communications, and engage students with an authentic platform for their ideas. The possibility of students engaging with individuals outside of our class in their formal learning environment was fascinating to me.

However, I recall being aware that everyone did not shared my utopian view of blogs.  There were many questions around whether using blogs in a public web environment were acceptable. . . Was it ok to have students create accounts on external sites? Was it permissible to have student work be shared openly on the web? What if students encountered unethical interactions with someone outside the class on their blog? And how could I be sure my students wouldn't share inappropriate photos or write about irrelevant topics? I recall these questions making me uncomfortable. I did not have answers to them and neither did my fellow faculty or administrators.

After a year, I stopped using Blogger and began having my students blog inside a closed social networking tool called Ning (which was free to educators at the time). I didn't make the change because something concerning had occurred. Quite the contrary, I received very positive feedback from students about their blogging experiences. Ning is a tool outside the LMS, just like Blogger, however, the password protected wall it provided between the general public and the work of my students made me feel more comfortable.  Honestly, I also found it easier to manage the content, as well, as it had been tricky to connect 30-40 separate Blogger URLs each term.

And that, right there, is my point. That choice to move to Ning has stuck with me -- for seven years. This past semester I still used Ning in my online class. As my choice to teach in a protected shell, albeit not an LMS, stayed consistent, my perspectives about preparing students for a mobile, digital society through authentic learning experiences became stronger. In 2013, I wrote these words in a blog post for EdCetera (reposted here on GetSmart):
"By designing our courses to have students use social technologies in support of active learning pedagogy, students will be encouraged to participate in the open, social web as they complete their formalized educational experiences." 
We all have espoused theories about teaching and learning. What are yours? It's important to pause and critically reflect on how your values relate to your actions. I really did believe the learning environment in my class was preparing students to participate in the open, social web. But was I right? Over the years, I grew more skeptical of this as social media began to penetrate mainstream life. The fundamental question I am left with is, "How can students hone the skills to manage their digital identity when they're interacting in a password protected shell?" I don't believe they can.

When students leave college, they are expected to be able to demonstrate how they are unique from other new college graduates. Participating in the open web during college can provide a scaffolded entry into the job market.  Blogging in the public web remains a powerful opportunity for students to develop digital citizenship, as well as reflect deeply on their passions, skills, and overall place in this world. When students engage in what David Wiley has described as "non-disposable activities," they are empowered to look back at where they've been, see their growth, and use their work to demonstrate their skills.

So, while there still are no concrete answers to those big, scary questions that plagued me years ago, I now believe that's ok.  In fact, I know believe it's critical to engage with teaching in the open web to facilitate dialogue around these questions. If we all step back into our shells, we can't prepare our students to swim in the ocean on their own.  Finally, I recognize that the CI Keys project at CSU Channel Islands empowers me, as an instructor, to teach how I believe I should be teaching (while I also credit Laura Gibbs, whose innovations and willingness to share continue to inspire me!). The projects and/or tools an organization chooses to support can influence the flow of innovation in higher education. The flow of innovation is less dynamic when faculty are experimenting alone in the shadows of an organization.


Argyris, C., & Schon, D. (1974) Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Friday, June 26, 2015

VoiceThread: Accessibility Improvements

Today, I shared a brief presentation about VoiceThread with 150+ faculty from the California State University system at the CSU Course Redesign with Technology retreat, sponsored by the CSU Chancellor's Office.  Here is a resource page I created for my presentation on which you'll find lots of goodies, including a VoiceThread to try out for yourself, and links to details about what I will discuss below.

Accessibility is an important part of evaluating new technologies for education. Both the interface of a digital environment and the content it presents needs to be accessible to all learners. In my teaching experiences, VoiceThread has supported the needs of my students with cognitive disorders in ways the traditional Learning Management System environment (text-dominant) has not.  Cognitive disabilities (like dyslexia and dysgraphia) are the most prevalent forms of disabilities (or learning differences) in higher education. Each brain is wired differently. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework designed with these differences in mind. Using VoiceThread in the design of a learning ecosystem supports the principles of UDL:
  1. Provide multiple means of representation
  2. Provide multiple means of expression
  3. Provide multiple means of engagement
I often wonder how college completion rates would change if students' learning environments were more supportive of the different needs of our learners. You can read more about my perspectives on this topic here.

In recent years, VoiceThread incorporate some valuable features in support of inclusivity for all users. These include the development of VoiceThread Universal, an html VoiceThread interface that supports screen readers (like a back door) through which any VoiceThread can be accessed and the ability for a user to add closed captions to central media videos shared on a VoiceThread slide. This month, several more features were released to improve the overall accessibility of VoiceThread for all users:
  1. A VoiceThread viewed on VoiceThread.com can now be navigated using a mouse. Click here for a list of keyboard shortcuts (I've started using many of these already and find them very useful).
  2. Audio and video comments can now be closed captioned. Essentially, VoiceThread now provides a "CC" icon that appears within the comment bubble, as the comment plays. Just click that icon and you will be prompted to upload a caption file (accepted types include: DFXP, SRT, SAMI, SCC, SBV). That's the easy part. The tricky part is creating the caption file! Click here to view the process I used to caption the audio comments in this VoiceThread.  If you have a streamlined process/better option, please share!
  3. I don't think this one is new, but it was new to me! I learned how to create a share link that would open a VT directly in VoiceThread Universal (the screen reader accessible version VoiceThread).  The process involves located the share link for the VoiceThread and tweaking the URL a bit.  The key is locating the numeric identifier in your VoiceThread's URL and adapting the structure of the URL. The structure for a VoiceThread.com link is: http://voicethread.com/share/#####.  The structure for a VoiceThread Universal link is: http://voicethread.com/universal/thread/#####
  •   Here is an example:
I understand more captioning features are in the works at VoiceThread, but I don't have details about this yet. This feature is a big step forward and I look forward to more steps!

While I'm at it, I should also share that an updated (and much improved) version of VoiceThread was also released for iOS and a new Android app is also available.
I hope this helps!

For more information about VoiceThread and accessibility, click here.