Sunday, April 13, 2014

#ET4Online 2014: A Year of Awakening?

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Yesterday, I returned from three days at the Sloan-C/MERLOT Emerging Technologies Symposium for Online Learning in Dallas. I am still processing! But here are some reflections.

My key take away at this moment -- aside from reflecting on the deeply amazing humans I met and spent time with -- is that some of the significant organizational changes that have been bubbling up throughout higher education surfaced in different ways this year. This is good! I felt that the presentations this year were topical and compelling. In short, there was discomfort and debate -- more so than in previous years. This too is good! Some presentations even delved into subjects that have become indiscussable at some institutions. And that, to me, is a significant moment in the process of organizational change. 

According to Argyris (1999), when individuals in an organization are confronted with change they find themselves forced to deal with topics or issues that challenge their traditions.  These traditions are governed by mental models, which are undetectable, yet salient, conditions that inform how a person thinks and acts. 

When a mental model that guides a tradition in an organization is challenged, a person will behave in one of two ways. Most commonly, a person will exhibit defensive behavior. Defensive actions may include exhibiting signs of frustration or simply avoiding the topic all together. For example, "That's not how we do things here" or "That wouldn't work because..." These behaviors build upon each other and after enough repetition, the members of an organization become familiar with the expected response and stop raising the topic. The questions (that is, the new ideas, the innovations, the curiosity) stop being introduced into the organization and the status quo is reinforced.  The topic, therefore, becomes indiscussable and the tradition, whatever it may be (even if we all dislike it) remains intact.  We all have seen this right?  Think about when a new person in your organization is hired and asks that uncomfortable question that nobody else asks anymore because everyone else has learned the answer.

 If defensiveness can be overcome when a person becomes aware of his/her mental model, however, the mental model can be seen in a new light. A person can begin to think critically about why and how it became so powerful and start to have a deep conversation about alternative actions. This is when an organization begins to become a learning organization.  This is when awakening can lead to meaningful changes. And it starts with conversations about difficult topics.


Reclaiming Learning

First, Jim Groom @JimGroom shared an important keynote that I both think and hope awakened the minds of many attendees.  View the Storify archive of Tweets here. 

Groom's keynote to me, illustrates, the model of organizational learning I described above. Groom's talk took the audience through a historical look at web culture when geocities offered users the opportunities to easily cultivate their own web presence and connect with others.  This open, communal experience was contrasted with the LMS, higher education's "go to" learning landscape.

It is as if we don't even think beyond what's outside the LMS today in higher education. It is as if we think we're teaching online but we aren't -- we're teaching inside a walled garden.  And how does learning inside an LMS prepare a student for live in our digital, mobile society? These were some of Groom's points.

The LMS has become our tradition. The open-web has become the uncomfortable change -- the flood waters that the administrators of our institutions try to keep out. This is the indiscussable topic that Groom took hold of in his keynote. 

Throughout the past several years, I have worked with many faculty who have shared with me that they want to teach with this tool or that tool to promote more engaging, collaborative learning for their online students but their institutions will not allow them to because of this or that.  Or they immediately pause and become filled with caution and concern at the thought of integrating a tool into their students' learning that is not included within the LMS.

I realize my words may be stirring up emotions within you as you read this and I am fully aware there are topics to discuss and learning that needs to happen in order for us to facilitate learning with web-based tools (which is the crux of my book, Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies).  The point is that we can work through these topics together, as a community of online educators, if our top priority is our students' learning, as opposed to maintaining and controlling them. 

Groom's points dug deep. If we teach inside an LMS and only inside an LMS, are we truly teaching "online"?  If our students only experience interactions within the controlled, secure walls of an LMS, are they truly experiencing what it means to be online? Are we, as educators, leveraging the educational benefits of the internet if our learners do not engage in activities outside the walled garden of an LMS?  Are we as a system of higher education embracing even a small percentage of the power of this "learning revolution" we appear to be occurring around us?  How is learning online improving students' abilities to think critically about media? To create original media and share it for re-use in a digital, mobile society? To locate, evaluate, and re-use media effectively?

And as we, more and more, strive to design "learner-centered" online learning environments, the LMS is designed to lock students out from their own learning contributions after a term has ended.  As Groom so eloquently put it, when students learn in an LMS, they learn in an environment that has no relevancy to life after college.

As I reflect on my own teaching, the more I have ventured outside the LMS to designed an online learning environment for my class that incorporates a tapestry of student-centered media projects with web-based tools the more inspired, relevant,  and active my students' learning has become. And that topic has been the premise of this very blog, my book, and my other related work.  In fact, I became so passionate about this topic that it led me in 2009 to leave my safe, tenured position as a full-time faculty member and eventually begin my life that same year as a free-lancer. In many ways, teaching outside the LMS led me to a life as an academic outside the academy. Hmm. Interesting connection.

The LMS is a helpful tool for providing a secure place for having students authenticate as registered students. That is a function I rely upon it for. The LMS is also a valuable tool for communicating grades to students, which must be done securely to comply with FERPA.  I also use my LMS to deploy periodic traditional assessments for learners, because they provide students with automated feedback from me, as well as opportunities to learn from their mistakes when assessments are allowed to be taken multiple times. 

I have much more processing to do about Jim Groom's talk. But, for now, I'd like to thank him for taking us to this level of learning.  

Mess in Online Education

Image by Cy Twombly
The plenary presentation at #ET4Online, Mess in OnlineEducation: How It Is, How It Should Be, was delivered by Jen Ross @jar and Amy Collier @amcollier.  Their presentation reframed the culturally derogatory term "mess" into a positive vision for online education.  Yes, your teaching should be messy.  Why?  As the presenters reminded us, learning is messy.  If we could visualize how each of us learns, we would be able to see that each of us learns in an entirely different way. I was reminded of a Cy Twombly drawing while listening to this presentation. Some may see it as a mess; some see it as beautiful. Either way, it's art.

But mess is more than supporting learning differences.  Mess involves designing for and allowing for learners to experiences the challenges, stumbles, and failures involved with the real world, as well as building in flexibility to allow life to intervene. Right now, my online students are embarking upon a project that involves locating a practicing art photographer (anywhere in the world), interviewing him/her about his/her work, and creating a VoiceThread about the photographer's work.  I have this project chunked out into three steps, each with a deliverable, clear criteria, and a due date, to keep students on task.  The experience is different for each student. For example, some students identify a photographer quickly, others reach out to several before they make contact with one who is available to be interviewed, and I have had two students (over two years) who have needed my help finding a photographer. Most students relish in how incredible it felt to be in touch with a "real" photographer and learn about his/her experiences. Some have maintained connections with them and even been sent prints from the photographer after the project's completion. One photographer asked my student's permission to share her VoiceThread on his blog (nice turn of the tables!) and another student received an email from a photographer letting her know that her project had "validated his career."

The project is messy. I never know how it's going to turn out or what problems we are going to encounter. The important thing is that my students know I'm in it with them and I'm there for them -- and that they remain in communication with me. I have had semesters where I've thought, "Maybe I should end this." But after listening to Amy and Jennifer's presentation, I feel empowered to continue this project.  It truly is real-world learning that will foster skills for life, more so than any multiple-choice test, discussion forum, or assigned blog post.  Learning outside the LMS is real world learning. And that is why we need to embrace it.

In the presentation, Collier and Ross also noted one recent trend in edtech that is discouraging mess in online learning -- the proliferation of technologies that simplify the teaching and learning process.  In their presentation, they included many screenshots from promotions and writings about products that promote their ability to save teachers time, to minimize assessment challenges, etc.  While I agree that the focus on lifting the teacher from the student experience has been overly celebrated in the MOOC heyday -- and I shared early reservations of employing MOOCs widespread in community colleges here -- I hope the presentation does not throw cold water on the many innovations surfacing in educational technology today that will continue to improve upon the sterile, tidy LMS-driven experiences Groom critiqued in his presentation.

As I already noted, it were not for the emergence of web 2.0, I would never have ventured outside my LMS.  I would still be teaching my visually-centric art history courses using text-based discussion forums (ouch).  I enjoy not only the opportunity to continue to explore new tools emerging on the edtech horizon, but working directly with entrepreneurs who want to learn how to improve education.  I support more dialogue between higher education and edtech startups -- not less.  Entrepreneurs need to learn from online educators --. and those who will survive are those who are willing to learn.

Questions for reflection:

  • "How is your online class preparing your students for success in the 21st century?"
  • "How does the design of your online class generate opportunities for students each go different ways, encounter unique challenges, and identify their own solutions?"

Thinking Ahead to 2015

Next year, I will be conference chair for the 2015 Sloan-C-MERLOT ET4Online Symposium.  The event will be in Dallas once again on April 22-24, 2015.  Send me your ideas and your suggestions so it can continue to be an engaging, thought-provoking experience and advance the conversation about the role of emerging technologies in online learning.


Argyris, C. (1999). On organizational learning. Malden, MA: Blackwell Business.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Archive of Inclusive Learning: Lightbulb Moments

Here is the archive of Inclusive Learning: Lightbulb Moments, a Hangout on Air from The Center. In this Hangout, +Deborah Lemon and I share and reflect on our own growth and development as online educators and discuss how the integration of social tools into our online learning environment has fostered community-oriented learning that nourishes our students' learning differences and creates personal, relevant learning. Deborah showcases her online Spanish class which is taught in Facebook and I share my online ice breaker designed in VoiceThread and examine how the option to express oneself in voice or text is impacting my students' learning. What are your two takeaways? I'd love to hear them! #CCCLEARN
Thanks for sharing with me today, Deborah! I always learn so much from you. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Inclusive Learning: Lightbulb Moments from 2 Online Instructors

Inclusive Learning: Lightbulb Moments from 2 Online Faculty

Thursday, April 3rd

4:00-5:00pm Pacific

LIVE - Google+ Hangout on Air!

Join The Center's Community for follow-up discussions --> 
Follow The Center on Twitter --> @Center_Ed

Join me, Michelle Pacansky-Brock, and +Deborah Lemon  as we engage in a reflective conversation about their growth and development as online educators. Deborah and I will share how we have come to value the rich, community-oriented learning environment in our online classes that supports our students' learning differences and encourages them to make relevant connections with the curriculum. We will share tips and strategies, show examples of our own VoiceThread and Facebook learning activities, and take questions from the live audience.
  • The Q&A feature will be enabled during the live Hangout on Air to allow viewers with a Google+ account to submit questions through a web browser.
  • The Hangout on Air will also be archived and and shared with a Creative Commons license on The Center Hangout Archive playlist at:
This Hangout on Air will feature:
  • Michelle Pacansky-Brock - Community Coordinator of The Center; Associate Faculty, Mt. San Jacinto College; Instructional Technologist, CSU Channel Islands, Author of Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies and How to Humanize Your Online Class with VoiceThread
  • +Deborah Lemon  - Professor at Ohlone College, Instructor of Building Online Community with Social Media at @ONE
All Center events are brought to you by @ONE.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Supporting Online Community College Faculty

Image by Jim Bumgardner CC-BY-NC-SA. The Center is brought to you by +@ONE 

Supporting Online Community College Faculty

Tomorrow, Wednesday, March 19th

3:00pm Pacific

LIVE - Google+ Hangout on Air!

Join The Center's Community for follow-up discussions --> 
Join us for a #CCCLEARN Twitter Chat on the topic --> Thurs, 3/27 3-4pm PDT

California’s Community Colleges are leaders in distance education. In 2011-12, distance education courses comprised roughly 27% of the state’s total student headcount and each of the 112 community colleges in the state offered an average of 10 online degrees (CCC Chancellor’s Office, Distance Education Report, 2013). Supporting faculty with training and resources to teach online is foundational to ensure students have successful learning experiences and persist in their online classes.

In this Hangout, Katie Datko, will share an overview of the growth and development of the resources Pasadena City College has created to support the training and development of their online faculty.  Using the screenshare feature, Katie will provide a tour of some of these resources and discuss the challenges and opportunities the college has experienced along the way.
  • The Q&A feature will be enabled during the live Hangout on Air to allow viewers with a Google+ account to submit questions through a web browser.
  • The Hangout on Air will also be archived and and shared with a Creative Commons license on The Center Hangout Archive playlist at:
This Hangout on Air will feature:
  • Katie Datko - Instructional Designer for Online Learning, Pasadena City College
  • Michelle Pacansky-Brock - Community Coordinator of The Center; Associate Faculty, Mt. San Jacinto College; Instructional Technologist, CSU Channel Islands, Author of Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Teaching in the Dark: Learning to Love What We Fear

Yesterday, I was honored to be the keynote speaker at the 3rd Annual Tri-C eMerge Blended Learning Conference at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio.  It was a fabulous day filled with great dialogue and learning. 

For my presentation, I took the opportunity to take a risk, in an effort to model one of the main points of my presentation -- the importance of embracing vulnerability.  Vulnerability, according to researcher Brene Brown, is the birthplace of creativity and innovation.  It is also an experience that genuinely happy people regularly accept, welcome, and embrace into their lives.

So, I planned to deliver my keynote in front of a live audience using a new tool, Presentain, that I had never used before (aside from testing it out in my home office).  Presentain was shared with me by my colleague and friend, +Vicki Curtis . Vicki is experimenting with Presentain in her face-to-face ESL class with success. The concept: load your presentation onto the Presentain site in PDF form, download the free app to your phone, and when you are ready to present connect your app to the website (you do this by entering a code into the website provided to you on your phone in the app).  This generates a unique URL that you provide to your audience. The audience then goes to that URL on their smartphone, tablet, or laptop and when you click "Start" they can they see your current slide on their device, click "ask a question" which submits their inquiry to me on my phone for me to preview and decide if I wish to answer it or not, or send a message to the speaker via email. Those who send a message can ask to receive the recording because Presentain also records the presentation as I speak, using my smartphone (remember, I'm holding it with the app loaded on it) as both a remote to click through my slides and a microphone! Oh...and I can activate polls from my phone that display on each viewer's device and then display the results immediately.

Ok, does that sound cool or what? 

Well, I tried it. I took the leap. And it didn't work. Oh, well. The app started and the presentation didn't. I'm in touch with the company; they are a startup and I'm sure they are working through a lot of kinks right now. I understand the risks involved with using emerging technologies. Sometimes things don't work when you're using a tool that is brand new. But you're problems become part of their improvements.  And I intend to share my experiences with Presentain to help them improve.  And from the broader perspective of taking risks, the point is...I tried something new, I failed, and I survived. My good ol' Keynote worked fine as a back up.  And you know what? I'll try again.

From there, I went on to share this presentation, which couched a teaching experiment within the context of the human emotions associated with risk and experimentation. To me, these are the topics that are too frequently left unmentioned at educational technology conferences and I believe they are some of the greatest barriers we face in the future.


Monday, March 3, 2014

Want to learn more about The Center?

I will be presenting a free webinar tomorrow for @ONE about The Center, @ONE's next-generation online learning community for which I am the community coordinator.  The Center is designed to support California's 112 community colleges but our events are open to everyone (and all are free!).  Learn how The Center can improve collaboration and community in your own professional development and help you get started with your transformation into a connected educator.

 The Center: @ONE's New Online Community
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
12:00-1:00 Pacific

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

How to Help Faculty Humanize the Online Teaching & Learning Experience: SLN SOL Summit

20th Anniversary
SUNY Learning Network
New York, NY
February 26-28, 2014

Tomorrow, Wednesday, February 26th, I will be presenting a 3-hour workshop 
at the SLN SOL Summit in New York City titled  
How to Help Faculty Humanize the Online Teaching & Learning Experience
from 2:15-5:15 EST 

In the workshop, I will be sharing an overview of a brand new online faculty development course I developed and am now teaching for CSU Channel Islands, How to Humanize Your Online Class.  The workshop will showcase the contemporary and practical approaches to faculty development used to design the course, which place an emphasis on the importance of modeling how to effectively integrate web 2.0 tools into an LMS while supporting learning objectives and simultaneously reducing a learner's sense of alientation through voice/video and peer-to-peer interactions.  

The workshop will be streamed live (starting at 2:15 EST) and you are invited to watch along here.
Here is the site I will share in conjunction with my workshop presentation (which will be largely comprised of a walkthrough of the online course, with ample time for workshop participants to experiment with a few of the tools used in the design and instruction of the course).

Please join in on the Twitter backchannel! 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Archive! Humanizing Online Grading with Voice & Video

Yesterday, I spent an hour in dialogue with +Dan Barnett and +Tracy Schaelen about one of my favorite topics ... humanizing the online learning environment for students. Despite a major fail on the part of Google+ Hangouts on Air (grumble) to stream half of our live conversation, we persevered and, fortunately, the archive of the Hangout turned out fabulous.  I am sharing it below and hope you will find time to view, reflect, share a takeaway about the conversation, and pass the link on to your own networks too. 


Reinforcing Research Findings

I intended to end the Hangout with a reference to the findings from online teaching research, which, more or less, reinforce all the insights and findings shared by Dan and Tracy in the Hangout conversation. Unfortunately, I forgot.  So, here is the graphic I intended to share in the Hangout.

The Center is brought to you by @ONE.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Today! Humanize Online Grading with Voice & Video!

Join me today, Thurs, 2/20 at 4pm Pacific, for a Center Hangout on Air with +Tracy Schaelen and +Dan Barnett. We'll be discussing how Tracy and Dan use voice and video to humanize the their instructor feedback and consider the impact this has the student experience. Tracy will be sharing feedback she has collected from her students. The Hangout will incorporate the Google+ "Q&A" feature, which allows anyone with a Google+ account to click the video and ask us a question during our live conversation. Questions will also be taken via Twitter using #CCCLEARN.

Humanizing Online Grading with Voice and Video
To view the LIVE Hangout, go directly to this link today, 
Thursday, February 20th, from 4-5pm Pacific. 

The Center is brought to you by @ONE 
Center logo by Jim Bumgardner CC-BY-NC-SA

Friday, February 14, 2014

Using Movenote to explain "A Simple Way to Start a Hangout"

I continue to be in awe about the options educators have today for simple, free tools that allow us to create video content in minutes -- with no video editing or recording skills whatsoever.'s amazing!

Not too long ago, I had heard about Movenote, an emerging tool that enables a user to upload PDFs and images and record video from her webcam at the same time. The video is sync'd with the slides, providing an incredibly simple method of creating a straightforward recording of a presentation.

Yesterday, I received a pleasant Speakpipe voice message from one of Movenote's representatives who had seen me Tweet about their product. They told me about cool new feature they had just released that integrates Movenote with Gmail. I was intrigued. Here's the deal - if you use Chrome and Gmail, you can install the free Movenote Chrome app for Gmail and it will install a button directly in your Gmail interface that, when clicked on, will launch Movenote. From there, you can upload your content, record your video, and paste the URL directly into an email and send it. BAM! Integrated workflow. Nice.  Click here to see a video of the new Gmail to Movenote workflow.

As for me, I still needed to experiment with Movenote. So I created a tutorial -- hhmmmm, what to share? What to share? I know! Yesterday, I was excited to see how simple it had become to launch and share either a Hangout on Air or a good ol' plain Hangout (which is basically a group video call) in Google+. To me, this process has been confusing for awhile and it especially took me quite a bit to understand how to invite people to my Hangouts if they were not in my Circles. So, I created a tutorial about "A Simple Way to Start a Hangout." This tutorial does not cover Hangouts on Air, only Hangouts (there is no recorded or public element in Hangouts).  I hope this is useful in understanding what Movenote looks like, as well as learning how to start a Hangout!

Rule of thumb: When created any video, aim for 5 minutes in length. If you go over by one or two minutes, you're ok. If you are closer to 10, you should probably cut that content into two videos.

In short, I found Movenote incredibly easy to use. The thing that took me the longest was creating my slides (simple annotated screenshots I made with the help of my friendly essential, FREE tool companion, Jing).  After I recorded with Movenote, the video processed quickly, I had the ability to copy the link, I was provided with embed code in different size options, simple social sharing buttons, analytics to see the number of views through each share method, and there is also an option to download my Movenote video to a non-watermarked .mp4 file. So I could use Movenote to create my video content and upload the videos into YouTube ... which, honestly, is more my workflow.  Once videos are in YouTube they can be captioned using YouTube's online captioning tool (listen, pause, type, repeat).

I don't see any negatives here, folks.  Are you using Movenote? What are your experiences?

I think this would be a great tool to have students generate simple, videos too.