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So, you’ve developed a learning technology

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In the course of the edtech work I do in the provincial post-secondary system, I often get asked by someone developing a new learning technology to take a look at the technology and provide some feedback. Often these technologies are developed by an educator, sometimes in collaboration with a (usually co-op computing science student) developer/programmer.

These are often small, niche projects; labours of love built on the side of someones desk to scratch a pedagogical itch the educator has. I love seeing these projects, mostly because the educators pitching them are passionate about their tool, and that passion is infectious.

As someone who has sat in on my fair share of edtech elevator pitches from educators, I’ve come up with some standard talking points that I often bring up at some point in the conversation. If you are an educator who has spent some time working off the side of your desk on an edtech project and are looking to take it wider, here are some points you should consider as you begin your journey from educator to learning technology provider.

  1. Do your research on where your product fits in to the edtech landscape. There is a very good chance that your idea is not unique and someone is already doing it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, but it does mean that you have to be able to differentiate your technology from theirs, and be able to explain that difference to those who product is different than theirs. And, sorry to be the one who disappoints, but chances are very good that someone is doing something similar to what you are already doing.*
  2. Narrow your target audience. What education level is your product aimed at? Broadly speaking, you should decide on whether your system is better suited for k-12 or higher education. And, once you have made that broad distinction, narrow in even further. Educators are no longer looking for one size fits all systems. Focus on who your audience is and develop for them.
  3. Pay attention to integration. Your technology will have to fit into the existing edtech eco-system of an institution, so be sure to answer questions like, “how does this integrate with a student record system?” and “how will you handle authentication?”
  4. Have a pedagogical model. This should be obvious, make sure you can clearly articulate the learning model that underpins your technology.
  5. Explain how your technology uses and stores data, and how you ensure that your application is (BC context here) FIPPA. complaint.
  6. Have other educators use your technology, ideally in a class with students. I often see a lot of work that has gone into a technology that is only used by the person developing it. You’ll learn much from having others use your tool.
  7. You need to pay attention to three aspects of your project; Pedagogy, Technology, and Business Development. The pedagogy piece is usually taken care of by the person driving the project, whom is often an educator of some kind. Second, have an actual developer working on the project, ideally someone with a firm grasp of current development methodologies and architectures. Third, have someone who understand business models and can see how to sustain the technology. I often see projects with the first, sometimes the second, but rarely the third. Speaking of business models….
  8. If you are going open source (and I really hope you do), know what are successful business models for open source software. There are many to choose from. Pick a model you like and go from there.
  9. If you go open source (and I really hope you do), have a plan for how you will develop your community. Open source depends on community, some of whom may be commercial partners and vendors, so don’t exclude them as they can have a valuable role in helping to sustain your product.
  10. If you say you support Open Education or Open Educational Resources, you need to explain exactly how you do that, and be prepared for hard questions. I see A LOT of tech products that say they support Open Education, but don’t. If by support you mean “we can take OER’s and import them into our platform”, then unless you can explain to me how you add value to those OER for the wider Open Education community in a way that is free and unencumbered, then you are a freerider and the meeting will end quickly. If you want to work in the Open Education space, and say you work in the Open Education space, then learn how to work in the Open Education space in ways that are meaningful to the goals and aims of the open education community. Here’s a very good guide started by Paul Stacey of the Open Education Consortium where you can start to learn about how to be a valuable partner in the Open Education community.

Now, following these guidelines doesn’t necessarily mean you will be successful in launching your new learning technology to the world. But putting some thought into these areas while you are in the bookstrapping phase of your project will go a long way in helping you take your idea to a larger community.

* If you do find someone doing something similar to you, and they are an open source project, consider joining forces with them.

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dnorman
14 days ago
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Calgary
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Hundreds of public sector workers protest post-secondary layoffs

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AUPE protest

Shortly after the contentious Bill 22 passed final reading, hundreds of public sector workers gathered at the University of Calgary to protest job cuts, pension changes and what supporters called "vicious cuts" to post-secondary education.

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dnorman
17 days ago
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Calgary
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Going Multimodal: 5 Tips for Making the Switch to Multimodal Assignments

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Student does a video podcast as a multimodal assignment

With written communication becoming increasingly multimodal—from newspaper websites to your social media feed to your learning management system’s announcements page—researchers and practitioners alike have made the case for the value of multimodal assignments. While much of this work focuses on the theoretical changes, this article offers practical suggestions for faculty members with limited experience designing multimodal assignments who’d like to convert some of their traditional assignments to multimodal ones.

An assignment is multimodal if it invites students to engage in more than one medium of communication, or if it gives students the opportunity to select from several potential media. For example, a video podcast would be multimodal because it uses both oral and visual communication. An assignment as a whole could be multimodal if it offers students several strategies for completion and/or assessment of the work.

Instructors can benefit from altering some assignments by making them multimodal in two ways:

First, the move to multimodal can help prepare students for a world of communication that is increasingly multimodal and help them develop valuable insights on how to write effectively in that world.

Second, the move to multimodal assignments can help students produce better work. As Christine Joy Edwards-Groves has argued, students who have grown up in a multimodal world “thrive on the utility of technology, creativity, social interaction and communication” (2011, 52). By offering them such assignments, we give them the opportunity to thrive.

Tip #1: Start Small

Rather than revamping your favorite end-of-the-semester research paper, consider tweaking some of the smaller assignments. This works particularly well for assignments that are platforms for assessing content knowledge. For example, you might transform a traditional weekly reading quiz or an in-class writing response into a multimodal video response where students provide spoken and visual analysis.

Tip #2: Think a la Mode

Huang and Archer offer a helpful way of thinking about multimodal assignments: break them down in terms of mode (i.e., medium or platform), genre (“social textual” form), and discourse (how they approach the topic) (2017, 65). In terms of assignment design, think about how you might retain the same options for genre and discourse as your existing assignments while shifting the mode. For example, you might transform a short, written first-person narrative into a short, visual first-person narrative, shifting the mode significantly while retaining the genre and discourse. This may also ensure that your new assignment meets the existing student learning outcomes or objectives for your content.

Tip #3: Don’t Sweat the Tech

Faculty are often intimidated by emerging—or even long-standing—technology. You do not need to be a master of iMovie to offer your students the opportunity to create a video response, or even a short film. Chances are your campus has resources students can use; you need only to direct students to those resources, such as a tech-savvy librarian or web-based tutorials on YouTube. In some sense, it’s probably better if you’re not an expert on the technology, as this will make it clear to students that you’re primarily assessing their content and not their ability to execute a panorama shot.

Tip #4: Adjust Your Criteria

One of the (perhaps) unexpected challenges of the multimodal shift is the need to adjust grading criteria. A traditional essay rubric, for example, will refer to paragraphs. There are no paragraphs in a podcast. Waltheitner has suggested the possibility that rubrics for multimodal assignments focus not on the product but on the process (2014, 81). Another option is to emphasize common structural elements rather than mode-specific ones, such as argument rather than thesis and supporting claims rather than paragraphs.

Tip #5: Consider Rigor

Multimodal assignments tend to be as rigorous, if not more so, than their unimodal peers, but students unfamiliar with new modes may see them as “easy.” This is particularly the case if multimodal assignments are used in a token way. This can be avoided by carefully considering how the content of one mode might match another. One option here is to think quantitatively: given a slow, standard speaking voice, a 250-word script becomes an approximately 2-minute video, so a 1,000-word paper might be equivalent to an 8-minute video. Another option is to offer specific criteria that hold across any type of assignment: an introduction with a clear argument, 6-8 pieces of scholarly evidence, analysis of at least 2 data points, etc. Finally, it’s important to make multimodal assignments a significant portion of the overall assessment scheme, not just a small extra credit add-on. (Though, if it’s your first time assigning a multimodal assignment, making it low stakes can reduce stress for you and the students.)

Multimodal assignments and assessments offer faculty and students the opportunity to flex their creative muscles, engage with emerging forms of media, and complete work in areas where they feel confident. While the initial move from unimodal to multimodal can be daunting, these simple strategies can make the transition more manageable.

Bio: Christian Aguiar is Assistant Professor of English at the University of the District of Columbia Community College. His research interests include approaches to supporting first-generation college students, multimodal writing, and Lusophone literature.

References

Edwards-Groves, Christine Joy. 2011. “The multimodal writing process: changing practices in contemporary classrooms.” Language and Education 25, no. 1: 49-64. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ910840

Huang, Cheng-Wen and Arlene Archer. 2017. “’Academic literacies’ as moving beyond writing: Investigating multimodal approaches to academic argument.” London Review of Education, 15, no. 1: 63-72. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1160035

Wahleithner, Juliet Michelsen. 2014. “The National Writing Project’s Multimodal Assessment Project: Development of a framework for thinking about multimodal composition.” Computers and Composition 31, no. 1: 79-86. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compcom.2013.12.004

The post Going Multimodal: 5 Tips for Making the Switch to Multimodal Assignments appeared first on Faculty Focus | Higher Ed Teaching & Learning.

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dnorman
19 days ago
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"multimodal"? We already have a word for this. Multimedia. Why do we create new words for no reason?
Calgary
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Escape from Google

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For this month's Linux Format magazine, I was asked to comment for a piece about how Google isn't living up to its "don't be evil" motto. This phrase was removed from Google's code of conduct in 2018, but it's still thought of as being part of the company's DNA.

My opinion is that Google itself shouldn't be singled out in itself - in many ways it is a more ethical big tech company, but it operates as part of a troubled ecosystem. Linux Format's Mayank Sharma asked me a few questions for a quote, but decided to run the conversation almost in its entirety. The magazine made the legal decision to edit out a comment I made about Facebook's role in genocide, so here's the original version from my emails with Mayank. This interview took place after my role with Unlock came to an end, and before my role with ForUsAll began. I speak for myself alone.

You should buy the latest edition of Linux Format on your local newsstand, or from its website.

 

Q. I am personally not a fan of Google’s business model that’s been the basis of what’s now known as “surveillance capitalism”. What, in your opinion, is Google doing wrong? Is there more to Google's evil than just privacy intrusion?

Let's be clear: Google is participating in the prevailing business model for internet businesses in Silicon Valley. So in that sense, they're not more evil than any other business that seeks to make money through personal data. You could also make the argument that they're not as directly harmful as a company like Facebook, whose data practices have been shown to have undermined democracy in countries like the United States and Britain, and even to have supported genocides in countries like Myanmar.

However, the impact of Google's business is exponentially greater because of its size. From widespread location collection in Google Maps, to the fact that the majority of sites on the internet host Google tracking code, it's very hard to not be tracked and profiled by them in some way. That information has the potential to be cross-referenced, together with offline information like credit card purchases, which it adds together to create a highly targeted profile.

The irony is that targeted advertising - where advertising is highly tuned to the profile that has been created for you through invasive tracking - is not really more effective or lucrative than simple contextual advertising! So Google's real harm may have been to incentivize the creation of a sophisticated worldwide surveillance network, for the sake of surveillance itself. Surveillance has chilling effects on free speech: people who know they're being watched behave and express themselves differently. And that has a real effect on democracy. Not to mention the potential for harm should a government with ill intent seek to harness that surveillance network for its own ends. Should tech companies have built systems that allow the current US administration to track immigrants and deport them? I think the answer is a clear "no" - and the only way to prevent this is for the surveillance apparatus to not exist in the first place.

Q. How do you escape from the clutches of Google? Is self-hosting the only real option?

Privacy is a group inoculation. Even if you self-host, there's nothing to prevent your information from being inadvertently gathered by your friend who hasn't taken the same steps. Not to mention that self-hosting is really hard! At its simplest, you need to know how to use command line tools (or, if you're using shared hosting, be comfortable with FTP). At its hardest, you need to have some server administration skills. For those reasons, I don't think self-hosting is a real solution to the problem in itself. There are lots of other great reasons to self-host: having full control of your web presence and data, if you have the means and the skills, allows you to better represent yourself online.

You can also make ethical technology choices. Use a web browser, like Firefox, that protects you. Choose an email provider, like ProtonMail, that has built-in privacy protections. If you're building a website - or particularly, running a web business - make careful choices about which data you really need to gather, and through which provider. Consider using an open solution like Matomo for your website stats instead of Google Analytics. Support small businesses that are transparently making ethical choices over giant companies that may not be.

But because it's a group inoculation, we need a better vaccine for all of us. More on that in a moment.

Q. Do you think going “back to formula” and adopting open web standards is the way forward?

Google is pretty good at using open web standards! While we should definitely be using open web standards and continuing to build a robust, open, decentralized web, I think the way forward is a human problem more than a technical problem.

First, there needs to be a clear alternative to the Silicon Valley venture capital funding model. People who build software need to be able to put food on the table; it's not a question of not being able to make a profit. But venture capital incentivizes companies to grow exponentially. Actually stopping to take money from consumers is a limit on that growth, so those companies tend to use advertising and data brokerage as revenue models instead. Movements like Zebras Unite see the harm in this and are trying to establish alternative funding models. Teams, including open source projects, need to take concrete steps to become more diverse; because the negative effects of surveillance are disproportionately felt by vulnerable groups, affluent, white, male teams often didn't understand the issues.

We also need to do much more work to make sure open source developers can make a real living from their work, and move away from the "free as in beer" perception of open software. People should choose free and open source software because of the freedoms and reassurances inherent in open development processes and licenses. If they just see it as a cheaper alternative, fewer startups will choose open models, because they can't make money that way, and the traditional VC model will continue. We're seeing more successful open source infrastructure companies, but I'd like to see more end user open source software find its way to real profitability too. For that to happen, we need much stronger support for those companies. I'd love to see more funding opportunities, as well as open source accelerators and advisory programs.

Finally, there has to be regulatory reform in two main areas. 1: We need to reform antitrust rules and prevent these data monopolies from existing in the first place: no company should ever be big enough to establish a global surveillance network. It's absurd. Technology monopolies are harmful, and in a world where software is a part of every part of our lives, we can't afford to hide behind techno-libertarian ideologies where government is always bad. Government can help us establish sensible rules that protect citizens; it's what it exists to do. 2: We need strong privacy legislation. The industry clearly cannot self-police on this front. GDPR is flawed but has had positive effects - particularly in the ways that organizations have changed how they think about privacy. California has new privacy legislation that will take effect in 2020. Every jurisdiction should enact sensible protections that encourage good behavior and punish violations.

Nonetheless, innovation has a strong part to play. I helped to build the Unlock Protocol, which is a decentralized way for creators to independently make money for their work. This stands in contrast to advertising models: here, selling paid memberships becomes a decentralized layer of the web, just like HTML, CSS, or JavaScript. You don't need to go through a middleman, and Unlock doesn't levy any fees. Other providers, open source and otherwise, can roll it into their products. The hope is that using direct revenue - and experimenting around revenue-based business models - will become easier and more lucrative than surveillance-based models. The VC / ad model is by far the easiest for product owners right now, but we can change the ecosystem by lowering barriers to entry to other business models. That way people who are starting new startups and products can find a business model that works best for their users, rather than letting venture capital dictate how they make money.

 

Again - you can buy the latest edition of Linux Format on your local newsstand, or from its website.

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dnorman
22 days ago
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Calgary
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Alberta premier says proposal to pull out of CPP due to 'hostility' from others

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Jason Kenney in Oct 2019

Premier Jason Kenney is defending his idea that Alberta could pull out of the federal pension plan by saying times have changed.

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dnorman
26 days ago
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WTF, Kenney. There is no "hostility" coming from the federal government. You're drumming up this WESTERN ALIENATION OMG SEPARATION bullshit as a political football. Fine. Play your stupid games. But keep your fucking hands off of my pension.
Calgary
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16" MacBook Pro announced, and it has a proper escape key

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After years of poorly-received MacBook Pro models, Apple's new sixteen-inch model has a lot riding on it. The 2019 MacBook Pro (available today at Apple.com) will have a larger screen, latest-generation innards and, yes, an entirely new keyboard design. Prices start at $2399.

Early reviews are appearing.

The 16” MacBook Pro comes configured with either a 2.6GHz 6-core i7 or a 2.3GHz 8-core i9 from Intel. These are the same processors as the 15” MacBook Pro came with. No advancements here is largely a function of Intel’s chip readiness. The i7 model of the 16” MacBook Po will run $2,399 for the base model — the same as the old 15” — and it comes with a 512GB SSD drive and 16GB of RAM.

It's only 2% larger for the extra inch of display. Keyboard's better, but ... maybe wait a few months.

Apple is calling it the Magic Keyboard in homage to the iMac’s Magic Keyboard (but not identically designed). The new keyboard is a scissor mechanism, not butterfly. It has 1mm of key travel (more, a lot more) and an Apple-designed rubber dome under the key that delivers resistance and springback that facilitates a satisfying key action. The new keycaps lock into the keycap at the top of travel to make them more stable when at rest, correcting the MacBook Air-era wobble.

And yes, the keycaps can be removed individually to gain access to the mechanism underneath. And yes, there is an inverted-T arrangement for the arrow keys.

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dnorman
26 days ago
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this is 100% because my new MBP was delivered on Friday. You're welcome.
Calgary
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