Friday, December 10, 2010

Mobile Think Tank: An Evening of Sharing & Inspiring

Last night I had the tremendous pleasure of facilitating the Mobile Learning Think Tank workshop at Pasadena City College, which was the brainchild of Rachel Fermi of PCC.  It was an evening of sharing teaching experiments and inspiring new ways of thinking about learning through the use of social media and mobile applications (or both).

Ideas Really Do Grow On Trees
by Michael Kieley
The evening opened with a presentation from Michael Kieley from Loyola Marymount who shared an activity idea from his class Visual Thinking.  Michael took us through a visual journey about the power of mindmapping to facilitate brainstorming and organic blossoming of new ideas.  Kieley has taught his class for more than a decade in a traditional face-to-face setting.  I was honored (and inspired) to hear that he transformed his entire class after hearing my presentation last spring, Painting, Power and Pedagogy, at EduSoCal10.  (And I should note that he attended the presentation virtually through the online UStream session...applause for the potential of technology here to engage remote audiences!)  Since then he has blended web-based technologies into his students learning, including student-generated podcasts and VoiceThreads.  That's an awesome feeling.

Mindmaps are visual renderings that begin with topic in the center, surrounded by sprouts that bifurcate into smaller branches.  Participating in this growth-oriented, organic model of thinking, which is found plentifully in nature (trees, rivers, etc.), pulls students out of their linear thought pattern and dislocates the human (or should I say "adult") tendency to accept the first idea that "sounds good."

Michael shared how he offers students the option to use MindNode, a mobile app, to create mind maps on the fly from anywhere at anytime.  I'm intrigued by the app and love that it offers a simple mind map creation process (drag, drop, label) and then offer the option to import the maps into a desktop to integrate hyperlinks, images, etc.  Here is Michael's presentation from last night.  Enjoy.

Welcome to our Classroom Dr. Spivey!
by Lori Rusch

The award for student empowerment and inspiration goes to Lori Rusch for her enriching presentation about a Skype-based, student-organized and facilitated interview of a world renown art historian, Dr. Nigel Spivey.  You may know Dr. Spivey from his engaging PBS video series, How Art Made the World (and if you don't, check it out!).

Rusch is a self-proclaimed "Freeway Flyer," a term used frequently in higher ed to describe the reality of part-time instructors who teach at multiple campuses, typically with no office and limited to no access to campus resources and often no clarity about the existence of their job from term to term.  Lori's dedication to teaching and learning was evident long prior to her presentation.  It was actually here on my blog several months ago when she wrote to me about this amazing student-driven project -- so it was quite a treat to hear the story in person and meet her.

The "event" that she shared was not part of her lesson plan.  It was the result of student curiosity and a passion for learning.  The process began when Lori shared clips of "How Art Made the World" with her high World Art History students at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts.  The video series inspired quite a passion and curiosity about Dr. Spivey amongst the students -- who would imagine an art historian becoming a celebrity on a high school campus?  Go figure.  Rusch let this energy and wonder flow naturally on its own and one day, she proposed to her students that maybe the class could interview him.  The students responded with looks of awe and asked, "Why would he want to talk to us?"  She shared with them that Dr. Spivey is a professor -- a teacher -- at Cambridge University and if he is an educator, why would he not want to speak to a group of students?  Then the conversation unraveled and resulted in the ultimate question -- "Could we do a video conference with him?"  Isn't that a beautiful scene to imagine in your mind?

Next, the students drafted a long letter to Dr. Spivey and crowd sourcing their own interview questions in Facebook, all facilitated -- not managed or controlled -- by their awesome teacher.  Dr. Spivey replied and accepted the invitation.  Ms. Rusch elected to leverage Skype for the interview platform -- totally free -- and had a preliminary chat with Dr. Spivey to lay the groundwork.

The interview occurred on a Friday morning -- 2 hours before the students' classes actually began.  Colleagues told Lori that she'd be lucky to "get two kids to show up." They were wrong, oh so wrong!  Not only did students come but they packed the room.  These students arrived to hear/see this interview because they were excited and inspired, not because they had to be there.  All the myths and comments I've heard about students "these days" being apathetic and unwilling to do more than they're required to do are sunk by this story -- which, I think, is why I love it so much! 

Below I'm sharing two resources that Lori shared with us:  1) a presentation showing screenshots of the Facebook group and promotional posters the students made to encourage campus participation at the interview and 2) a clip of the live interview which focuses on her amazing, inspirational students.  BRAVO!

Increasing Course Access and Communications with Blackboard Mobile Learn
by Roopa Mathur
Blackboard is the dominant course management system used throughout higher education (while this statistic, I believe, will continue to shift as open source software redefines institutional preferences and options for personalized learning).  Despite the widespread use of Blackboard, many faculty aren't leveraging the option to share their course content with their students through the Blackboard Mobile Learn app.

Ms. Mathur shared an eloquent picture of what the app experience is for a student user and noted that delivering her content through the app requires "zero extra time" on her part -- an important point for faculty to realize.  What I was impressed with was the ability to actually participate through the app, not just push content out to students.  The discussion board feature of Blackboard is live and dynamic on an app, which is nice.  But I do wonder how engaging in a discussion board through a mobile app changes the quality of the interactions.  Personally, I moved away from discussion boards and towards blogging and VoiceThreads because I found most student participation too shallow in DBs.  The rhythm of mobile access is quick and occurs in spurts -- these are questions I'm left with.  While I like to interaction option, it seems like a microblog (like a Twitter status update) would be more appropriate than a discussion forum on a mobile app??  Thoughts?

Increasing Student Engagement in the Classroom with Poll Everywhere
by Sandra C. Haynes

Our final activity idea was shared by Sandra C. Haynes, of Pasadena City College.  Ms. Haynes shared her personal experiences teaching large lecture classes to students who are increasingly more connected and interested in their cell phones than her art history lectures.  This reminded me of a story that was shared by a session presenter at the Educause Learning Initiative (ELI) Focus Session on Mobile Learning last spring.  I read about this story in subsequent white paper written by Malcolm Brown and Victoria Diaz.  There were two villages in China that each came up with unique solutions to the same problem.  Each village devised its own method for managing the overflow of melting snow from the mountains at springtime.  One village elected to construct dams, restricting the water's access to the village itself by forcing it out.  The other chose to build channels throughout the village which would allow the water to run freely and, ultimately, become integrated into the village's landscape.  This story is, of course, an analogy for the use of mobile devices in classes today.  They are there.  What to do with them is the question posed to faculty.

Well, Sandra has created effective channels in her teaching to welcome the use of cell phones by her students.  She astutely noted that only a small percentage of her students own smart phones, which sharply contradicts the statistics shared in the 2009 ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology that notes about half of higher ed students have smart phones.  This point is important, as community college student demographics are unique and there are too few studies about technology ownership and use that focus explicitly on this student demographic (!). 

So, in her quest for identifying a teaching activity using cell phones, her criteria was the use of a cell phone with SMS text messaging capabilities.  She turned to Poll Everywhere which is a simple, web-based tool that offers the option to create poll in advance or on the fly (which she demonstrated last night) for free (up to 30 responses).  Upgrading to a premium service yields more options.  But the free version is pretty great and, as a group, we were able to respond to Sandra's poll she created before our very eyes.  We all shared a chuckle when Sandra told us how much quicker her students were at responding, however (grin).

One of our virtual attendees (who engaged our discussion through Elluminate/CCC Confer), Zack from Folsom Lake College, noted that his campus has integrated PollEverywhere across the campus on electronic screens, enabling a constant pulse check on students' thoughts, opinions, and perspectives.  Cooool!

Posterous Group Blog Experiment
In an effort to capture more ideas and continue to flow of discussion from the evening, I took my own risk with a social media tool experiment.  I created a group blog with  I am impressed and will use it again! Posterous has a reputation for making blog posting as simple as possible, and it didn't let me down.  A user who wishes to post to a posterous blog (users can be restricted to a single author, a selected group or totally public), simply sends an email to a pre-subscribed posterous email address.  That's it.  Oh -- and media is embedded automatically.  For example, I attached a PDF of a brief presentation and posterous engaged the use of Scribd to embed the pdf directly into my post.  If you include a YouTube video url (not embed code) in the post, posterous also converts the url into an embedded video. 

Check out our group blog here: You'll find some great ideas and resources shared by Catherine Hillman, another virtual participant, about how she teaches her students how to leverage social media to manage their lives.

When using Posterous for a group, it becomes like a virtual bulletin board for posting ideas, examples, or evidence that meets the group's overarching topic or goal.  If I were teaching art history now, I'd put my ancient art history students into groups and have them take photographs of buildings (think houses, strip malls, everything!) in their community that reflect influence of ancient architectural elements -- barrel vault, arch, pediment, etc.  I did this as an individual project years ago and it was always a hit -- but making it mobile would be really incredible.

Live from the Archive!
Well, that about sums up the fantastic evening.  Again, I was truly inspired by the energy and dynamism of the presentation and the conversation that followed -- I hope it continues!  If you're as excited as I am, don't miss the archive of the Elluminate/CCC Confer session (which is closed captioned).  Click here to launch the archive.


Anonymous said...

EXCELLENT...thank you so very much for these ideas.
Laurie Huffman Leyva Ph.D.
Los Medanos College

Unknown said...

Hi Laurie, Thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you found the post a good resource, please share with others! The ideas shared at the workshop were terrific (I agree).

best wishes,