serial twitter account deleter. ringleader, apparently.
7 stories
1 follower

LMS Dogma

1 Comment

I mentioned in my last post that I recently was invited to talk to a group of students in Eddie Maloney’s Technology Innovation by Design course. This group are the pioneers of Georgetown’s new Masters program in Learning and Design. I was asked to talk about something, and I proposed a few things:

A Brief History of Learning Management Systems: I would take a course period to frame 20 years of Learning Management Systems and what they have meant to the field of educational technology in higher education. It would be a fun way for me to integrate the core principals of your program through the lens of the predominant systems we use to manage learning in Higher Ed. I like this cause it frames how we understand learning design, where we capture analytics, what passes for innovation, and how leadership understands all these things. The LMS is a perfect refraction point for so many issues at the heart of the program.

Future Visions: Hosted Lifebits and the Personal Cloud
This talk would provide an overview of existing technical infrastructure much of the innovation in higher ed has relied on since 2003 (LAMP stacks for self-hosted apps like WordPress, MediaWiki, etc.) while framing what will come next. It will look at the changing nature of cloud infrastructure that started with APIs at Amazon and led to Amazon Web Services, a cloud-based infrastructure that effectively changed the nature of how we imagine the basic plumping of the web. The implications for future innovations are remarkable given access to various technologies beyond the LAMP environment are increasingly just one-click way, not to mention the implications for managing and hosting your personal digital “lifebits” on your own cloud. This ties into practical work we are doing at Reclaim that builds on the Domains project.  In fact, I would love to teach an entire course about this topic.

The Problem with Analytics in Higher Education:
This would be a bit more of a provocation (although well grounded in the current reality of big tech) that would trace the discussion around analytics (much like I propose with the LMS) in order to lay bare some of the assumptions and problems with the promise of analytics as an excuse for unfettered data collection on the part of the various systems that we subscribe to in higher educational institutions (and beyond). I will discuss this in light of alternative models for imagining data collection and control on the part of the individual using “personal  APIs” and designing a system that gives  students and faculty far more control over their data—which should be a central concern given “data is the new oil.”

Practical Innovations: An Idiosyncratic History of Learning Design:
This would be a bit of the greatest hits of work we did at UMW to focus on practical ways in which you build a culture of innovation around learning technologies. This would cover UMW Blogs, ds106, Domain of One’s Own and move to Reclaim Hosting. I’ve done versions of this many times, and it will really focus on learning design and innovation, but will touch tangentially on the other two core tenets of the program.

I find it is easier to propose things than to do them, but when you commit to showing up you have to have something. We settled on the history of the LMS proposal, and I was happy to dig in. But once I started to prepare I remembered I’m not much of a historian, rather I’m just a lowly blogger. So I started searching around, and I started at the Learning Management System Wikipedia article. This led me to E.M. Forster’s story called “The Machine Stops”, which struck me as fairly bizarre starting point for distance learning in the 20th century. Wild to think the same writer behind novels like Passage to India, Howard’s End, and Room with a View could have a hand in the beginnings of the LMS. But that’s what’s remains compelling about the field of edtech: it’s a strange mix of Edwardian nostalgia, technological imperialism, and speculative science fiction. 

Around the same time I was reading Forster’s story, Audrey Watter’s published her review of Brian Dear’s The Friendly Orange Glow—a history of the “the first generalized computer-assisted instruction system.” After reading her review and following up on both the Brett Victor 1973 2013 “Future of Programming” talk (which I had not previously watched)  as well as a deeper dive into PLATO. And after that I had the preparatory reading/viewing for my class visit: E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops,” Brett Victor’s “The Future of Programming,” and Audrey Watter’s PLATO review. I liked the way the idea of dogma weaved its way through all three pieces, and it resonated with the students as well.

As I imagined we spent most of the time talking about Forster’s short story, which was fine by me. I came up teaching literature and I can’t get enough of it.  The parallels in that work are pretty striking, and it seems quite fresh more than 100 years after it was written. Folks make a lot of the idea of the everyone lectures and there is a distance ed machine, but for me the theme of dogma and the growing cult of technology as the next religion seemed far more interesting—not to mention the concomitant historical amnesia. Passages like the following meditation on the machine was pretty powerful for me:

Cannot you see, cannot all you lecturers see, that it is we that are dying, and that down here the only thing that really lives in the Machine? We created the Machine, to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now. It was robbed us of the sense of space and of the sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation and narrowed down love to a carnal act, it has paralysed our bodies and our wills, and now it compels us to worship it. The Machine develops – but not on our lies. The Machine proceeds – but not to our goal. We only exist as the blood corpuscles that course through its arteries, and if it could work without us, it would let us die.

This may bleed uncomfortably close into artificial intelligence for many folks, but for me the sense of having lost control over the systems and online spaces we have helped champion was poignant. The idea of these systems existing somehow external to our collective will maps onto my experience with the LMS. A meek acceptance of this as the decided upon future for computer-mediated teaching and learning was always the worst part of instructional technology, a theme which both Brett Victor and Audrey Watters nail in relationship to the dogma of programming languages and the ahistorical dogma of edtech served up by Silicon Valley. In fact, the second half focused on Victor and Watters, and in the end I spent far more time talking about our current dogma of technology and the narratives we weave rather than anything resembling a history of the LMS. I tried to save myself by quickly running through the Wikipedia page on the History of virtual learning environments, which I got thanks to a Tweet from Audrey and turned out to be a real gem.

It was fun to do, and it gave me an idea for a fun presentation wherein one gives 2004/2005 era edtech talk in relationship to all that’s changed in the last 15 years when it comes to promise and possibilities of Web 2.0. I still think it is a bit too close, and unlike some I don’t think that work was for naught—but it does take on a different valence 15 years later. Anyway, I wanted to try and get out some of these thoughts down before they vanished, and say a special thank you to Eddie and the students in the course who made me feel so welcome and tolerated my two and a half hour indulgence. 

Read the whole story
1 day ago
Innovation in education can easily be co-opted by corporations. There is a better way. Jim is into something important here.
Share this story

A list of 25 Principles of Adult Behavior by John Perry Barlow

4 Comments and 17 Shares

Silicon Valley visionary John Perry Barlow died last night at the age of 70. When he was 30, the EFF founder (and sometime Grateful Dead lyricist) drew up a list of what he called Principles of Adult Behavior. They are:

1. Be patient. No matter what.
2. Don’t badmouth: Assign responsibility, not blame. Say nothing of another you wouldn’t say to him.
3. Never assume the motives of others are, to them, less noble than yours are to you.
4. Expand your sense of the possible.
5. Don’t trouble yourself with matters you truly cannot change.
6. Expect no more of anyone than you can deliver yourself.
7. Tolerate ambiguity.
8. Laugh at yourself frequently.
9. Concern yourself with what is right rather than who is right.
10. Never forget that, no matter how certain, you might be wrong.
11. Give up blood sports.
12. Remember that your life belongs to others as well. Don’t risk it frivolously.
13. Never lie to anyone for any reason. (Lies of omission are sometimes exempt.)
14. Learn the needs of those around you and respect them.
15. Avoid the pursuit of happiness. Seek to define your mission and pursue that.
16. Reduce your use of the first personal pronoun.
17. Praise at least as often as you disparage.
18. Admit your errors freely and soon.
19. Become less suspicious of joy.
20. Understand humility.
21. Remember that love forgives everything.
22. Foster dignity.
23. Live memorably.
24. Love yourself.
25. Endure.

Here’s what these principles meant to Barlow:

I don’t expect the perfect attainment of these principles. However, I post them as a standard for my conduct as an adult. Should any of my friends or colleagues catch me violating one of them, bust me.

You can read remembrances of Barlow from the EFF and from his friends Cory Doctorow and Steven Levy. The EFF wrote:

Barlow was sometimes held up as a straw man for a kind of naive techno-utopianism that believed that the Internet could solve all of humanity’s problems without causing any more. As someone who spent the past 27 years working with him at EFF, I can say that nothing could be further from the truth. Barlow knew that new technology could create and empower evil as much as it could create and empower good. He made a conscious decision to focus on the latter: “I knew it’s also true that a good way to invent the future is to predict it. So I predicted Utopia, hoping to give Liberty a running start before the laws of Moore and Metcalfe delivered up what Ed Snowden now correctly calls ‘turn-key totalitarianism.’”

Barlow’s lasting legacy is that he devoted his life to making the Internet into “a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth … a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.”

Tags: Cory Doctorow   John Perry Barlow   lists   Steven Levy
Read the whole story
9 days ago
fantastic guidelines. focus. give a shit. love.
7 days ago
Share this story
3 public comments
8 days ago
That's a worthwhile list. I think I'll appropriate it.
Portland, Oregon, USA, Earth
9 days ago
Words to live by
9 days ago
Mr Barlow would definitely give me a "D" as an adult. But I'm trying.
Louisville, KY

Measuring Social Relations in New Classroom Spaces: Development and Validation of the Social Context and Learning Environments (SCALE) Survey

1 Comment
This study addresses the need for reliable and valid information about how the innovative classrooms that are becoming more common on college and university campuses affect teaching and learning. The Social Context and Learning Environments (SCALE) survey was developed though a three-stage process involving almost 1300 college students. Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses supported a four-factor solution that measures formal and informal aspects of student-student and student-instructor classroom relations. The resulting 26-item instrument can be used by instructors and researchers to measure classroom social context in different types of learning spaces and to guide efforts to improve student outcomes.
Read the whole story
17 days ago
validated survey on student experience in learning spaces…
Share this story

Top Hat Marketplace: What is it and should we care?

1 Comment

When Top Hat announced their latest round of financing a year ago ($22.5m), I admit to having been skeptical, or more accurately cynical, about their stated purpose. The company was primarily known for its mobile and laptop-based classroom response system, but now it is claiming to be a digital content company.

Top Hat, the Canadian education technology startup, completed a new round of funding to give it more firepower to go after textbook publishers like Pearson Plc. [snip]

Top Hat is one of a handful of startups trying to find ways to disrupt the traditional textbook publishing industry, dominated by companies like Pearson, Cengage Learning Inc. and McGraw-Hill Education Inc., which is owned by Apollo Global Management LLC. All of these firms have added digital educational materials to their range of products, but the transition has been rocky.

Then in the summer the company announced their new Marketplace.

The Top Hat Marketplace answers the urgent need of professors and instructors to easily find and create educational content that is interactive, easily customizable and much more affordable for students than conventional textbooks. The educational content in the Top Hat Marketplace breaks the slow-paced publishing model by allowing educators to provide one another instant feedback. This collaborative community-sourced model means that the Marketplace’s content is continually being updated and improved upon.

We at e-Literate have been covering the long-running and messy transition to digital curricular materials, including the search for new business models for content companies. But the announcements from Top Hat, to me at least, had the feel of a company pivot leveraging big, bad publishers as the bait for naive investors. Quite often it feels like the official greeting of ed tech entrepreneurs has either been "we're going to beat Pearson" or "we're going to beat Blackboard". Top Hat and its products do not neatly fit into typical categories, but this may mean that we're seeing a new model emerge, or at least a modernized and serious attempt to establish the self-publishing model.

The Marketplace provides a series of textbooks and ancillary material, (course notes, question packs, presentations, etc) that instructors can browse, adopt, modify, and share with students either as mandatory or recommended resources. Students pay fees between $0 and roughly $65 for the materials. A spokesperson for Top Hat clarified a recent change:

As we've already discussed, 90% of the content in the Top Hat Marketplace is free for instructors and students to use. However, as of Friday, students no longer need to use the Top Hat engagement app to access this content—meaning, students will no longer need to pay the per-term app fee to use free textbooks and content.

Other than reasonably low prices, nothing noteworthy so far. What is unique is that there are two primary sources for the content - self-publishing by instructors and open education resources (OER) from OpenStax. As described in the press release this summer:

“We leveraged our existing relationship with educators already using our classroom engagement tools to test and launch the Marketplace,” said Mike Silagadze, co-Founder and CEO of Top Hat. “The Marketplace finally puts educators — the people at the forefront of learning — in charge of their course materials.

Screen shot of economics materials

The Marketplace has been designed as a self-publishing platform for educators designed around collaboration tools called Textbook. I interviewed Demian Hommel, senior instructor of geography at Oregon State University, and his experience helps explain the path that Top Hat is taking from classroom response systems to content marketplace. Hommel is an "an advocate for place-based and experiential education, service learning, and research-informed teaching" and has used the classroom response system for several terms. In the meantime, he has wanted to create a geography textbook but did not want to go through the traditional publishers. Since he already knew of Top Hat, when they announced Textbook and the Marketplace Hommel decided that he wanted to go with the self-publishing route.

Hommel's interest in publishing models does not seem to be driven by financial considerations, at least for himself, as he said he is not sure how well Top Hat will be able to scale usage of the Marketplace. One big driver for self-publishing was the interest in keeping the textbook current in a changing world of geography. Hommel views the Marketplace as providing a convenient platform enabling active learning techniques and the ability to control and update his textbook over time.

There is another differentiator in how Top Hat provides content - the remarkably easy method to enable instructors to modify content, whether in the authoring process or as customizations to content that instructors choose to adopt. Basically, if you can author a post in Medium, you could create and modify content in the Top Hat platform.

Consider Hommel's Geography textbook. Here I have added the book to my course and hit edit in one section. By placing the cursor between text and an interactive text discussion prompt, then choosing the pop-up "Add" icon, I get the choice to add any of the following elements:

Editing a textbook

This is the same interface as originally used to author the textbook. Beyond the ease of editing (customizing for my class, adding my content) is the apparent ease of accepting updates from the content author, based on a new feature introduced in a limited trial in September. The instructor sees a notification about updated content, reviews the updates, and (if all works out) decides whether to update while maintaining any customizations made by instructor.

Method to accept revisions

The functionality also promises to allow an instructor to review and adopt  customizations made by others who are working on the same base content.

This is not an easy problem to solve, but if Top Hat is able to resolve how to deal with conflicting updates and local customizations, the intuitive user experience could change how faculty members and course designers collaborate and update content.

Top Hat does have some real challenges in establishing themselves as a full-fledged content provider. One was mentioned by Hommel, when he pointed out the lack of broad awareness of the Marketplace amongst faculty even at his university. Top Hat is known for its classroom response and presentation systems, and with the Marketplace acting as a two-sided market, it needs sufficient supply of self-publishing content and sufficient numbers of adopting instructors.

CEO Mike Silagadze response when I asked him about the adoption challenge is that the Classroom adoption, which they claim to be used "at 75% of North America's leading colleges and universities and reaches millions of students", has established Top Hat's direct relationship with thousands of faculty members. In this way, they are betting that Demian Hommel is a model - aware of company through Classroom, interested in textbook usage based on self-publishing model, and willing to extend their personal usage of the company's products.

One other challenge is that it is not a done deal that self-publishing has sufficient demand on the content creation side. Are there enough instructors in a broad array of disciplines who want to invest the time and effort to create textbooks without a clear model of possible financial reward? This is the bet that Top Hat is making, that the market can grow to the point that there are reasonable clear answers on financial rewards. And there is the hope that there are enough Demian Hommels who are willing to make these commitments without financial drivers.

I do not know if this product will take off, but if it does the Marketplace would establish a viable self-publishing model for faculty willing to work within the Top Hat platform. Over the past year in particular, the landscape of digital curricular materials is adding new models, and the Marketplace is worth watching.

There is also an OER angle based on Top Hat's marketing and the OpenStax partnership, which I'll describe further in another post.

The post Top Hat Marketplace: What is it and should we care? appeared first on e-Literate.

Read the whole story
40 days ago
They demoed the content authoring stuff last year, describing it as an oer production platform. Uncanny valley.
Share this story

What I would like to see in online learning in 2018: 1: a theory of classroom affordances

1 Comment

Prediction is difficult, especially about the future, so I won’t waste your time in suggesting what technologies are likely to take off in 2018. Instead, I’d rather focus on what I would like to see happen in 2018.

A research-based theory of classroom affordances

a. The challenge

With more and more teaching and learning occurring online, every instructor is now faced with the question: what is best done face-to-face and what is best done online? From a student’s point of view, what can the institution offer educationally on campus that they cannot get online? I am suggesting that we do not yet have a sufficiently powerful research-based theory that can realistically answer these questions.

b. What we know

Those of us working in online learning are well aware of the assumption made by many instructors that the classroom experience is inherently superior to any form of online learning. We are also aware of how often this assumption has proved wrong, with for instance student-student and student-instructor interactions online often being just as or more effective than in classrooms.

With the development of video, simulations, games-based learning and remote labs, even forms of experiential learning such as scientific and engineering experiments, manual operations and familiarity with tools can be developed as effectively online as in labs, workshops or classrooms. 

However, the differences between the effectiveness of online learning and face-to-face learning usually are dependent as much on the context or the circumstances of learning as on inherent qualities of what is to be taught or the medium of teaching. It is clear there are some circumstances where we now know online learning is preferable to face-to-face teaching (e.g. where learners have difficulty accessing physical classrooms, either because they are working or because it means a two hour commute) and where face-to-face teaching is more practical than online learning (e.g. where students need to handle and use heavy equipment). 

c. The need for a theory – and research questions

Nevertheless, there are other circumstances where either it doesn’t matter in terms of learning effectiveness whether it is done face-to-face or online, or where indeed there are significant differences in certain circumstances, but we don’t yet know what these are because we have not tested or challenged them.

So we need research-based evidence that can answer the following research question:

Under what conditions and for what purposes is it better to learn in a face-to-face context rather than online? And when and how should they be used to complement each other when both are readily available?

Can we produce a theory from such evidence that would enable a set of rules or criteria that instructors could use to make such a decision? What research would be needed to develop or test such a theory?

d. Is there no current theory we could use or build on?

There are plenty of theories of how learning best takes place¹, plenty of theories that are used to support best practices in face-to-face teaching², and similarly a few theories that suggest best practices in online learning and teaching³. What we don’t have is theory about the differences (if any) between face-to-face and online learning in specific circumstances or conditions, backed by reliable research evidence, when both are available in practice.

One potentially promising line of enquiry could be built around the research on the pedagogical affordances of different media: what kinds of learning can specific media support or help develop? If we treat face-to-face teaching as a medium, what are its pedagogical affordances: what can it do better than other media? (see Norman, 1988 and Chapter 7 of Teaching in a Digital Age)

However, the issue in deciding what to do online or face-to-face is usually not only pedagogical but as much to do with cost, instructor convenience, and a lack of imagination of how things could be done differently. Also the context is critically important. An effective theory will need to incorporate all these factors.

Note that most research on differences between online learning and face-to-face teaching at a meta level results in no significant differences overall. The factors or conditions that lead to differences often cancel each other out and are ‘controlled’ or eliminated from the studies to ensure ‘comparability.’ Thus – surprise, surprise – good quality online learning could be better than poor quality face-to-face teaching, and vice versa. Thus the conditions in which each is used is essential for evaluating their effectiveness. Furthermore these meta studies are looking at replacing face-to-face teaching with online learning or more recently blended learning, not at what the unique teaching characteristics of each mode may be, and in what conditions.

However it is precisely these ‘conditions’ that we should be researching to answer the research questions outlined above. When does online learning work better than face-to-face teaching and vice-versa? In other words, do not assume that it does not matter whether we teach online or face-to-face because the research shows no statistical differences, but instead let’s focus on identifying those specific conditions that actually do lead to significant differences, especially when both are equally available to instructors and students.

e. What about the SECTIONS model?

The SECTIONS model I have proposed in my open, online textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age, provides a set of questions that instructors should ask before finalising decisions on the choice of a particular medium or technology for teaching, partly based on their pedagogical affordances (T for Teaching and I for Interaction) but also on other factors such as student access, costs, and security. If we think of face-to-face teaching as just another teaching medium, could not the SECTIONS model be applied to answering the research questions in 1. c above? 

This could be one starting point perhaps for such a theory, but it will need much more research to test and validate it.In Chapter 7, I looked at all media except face-to-face teaching, because I was unaware of relevant research that could identify the unique featrures of face-to-face teaching when online learning could also be used.

Furthermore, face-to-face teaching is not monolithic, but can vary enormously – as can other media – and also can incorporate other media, so probably more research is needed to establish the conditions where face-to-face teaching is superior. 

f. What about Teaching in a Digital Age?

If you have read my online open textbook, you might think that this provides a theoretical basis for choosing between face-to-face and online learning. Certainly it does discuss a number of different educational theories and looks at several different teaching methods. It also suggests guidelines based on research and best practices for choosing between different modes of delivery and different media (except face-to-face teaching as a medium).

But the book is not written as a particular theory of teaching and does not provide enough theory to identify what to do regarding the ‘either online or face-to-face when I can use both’ decision within a specific teaching context. It is more a set of guidelines derived from existing theory and best practice. Someone else needs to move this work further.

g. Next steps

  1. Acknowledge and have recognized the significance of the research questions. This is an extremely important issue for research in education. We know from the National Survey of Online and Distance Learning in Canadian Post-secondary Education that the move to blended and hybrid learning is growing rapidly. Every instructor will soon face the question of what should be done in class and what online, but we have few answers at the moment that go beyond beliefs or prejudice;
  2. build these research questions into doctoral programs in education, so we have a growing body of evidence on the research questions and students and supervisors thinking about the issue and developing hypotheses and research evidence to support them;
  3. develop a national program of research into this issue so that there is a significant mass of study and research that will likely lead to some practical and useful answers in different subject domains.

I should make it clear I have no intention or wish to lead this research because I am trying to reduce my work commitments as I grow older. It is my privilege to pose such questions but not my responsibility to answer them! I just hope though someone else will pick up the gauntlet I have thrown down.

Over to you

This is meant as a ‘thought piece’ to stimulate thinking around a particular issue that I think is important. However, you may have different views on this that I hope you will share, in particular:

  1. Is this really an important issue? Do we really need research on this? Why not let instructors experiment and find out what works best for them without the need for any formal research?
  2. Is the question: ‘What should be done online and what face-to-face under what conditions?’ a question suitable for research? Are there other, better questions that should be asked?
  3. What existing theories could help with this question? Do we need yet another theory – or just a few more hypotheses that can be tested within existing theoretical frameworks? If so which one(s)?


¹ See, for instance, Chapter 2, Teaching in a Digital Age

²See for instance, Chapter 3, Teaching in a Digital Age

³ See for instance Chapter 4, Teaching in a Digital Age


Norman, Donald (1988). The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic BooksISBN 978-0-465-06710-7.

Read the whole story
45 days ago
SECTIONs model, and asking questions about what you want to have happen in your course, rather than just "HEY NEW SHINY STUFF I WANT IT ALL"
Share this story

The Curse of the Monsters of Education Technology

1 Comment

My latest book is now available for purchase.

The Curse of the Monsters of Education Technology is the latest in my “monsters of ed-tech” series – a sequel to The Monsters of Education Technology (2014) and The Revenge of the Monsters of Education Technology (2015). Like those two books, this new one is a collection of all the keynotes and talks I delivered in 2016 – seven altogether.

E-book versions are available for purchase for $4.99 via the usual online retailers: Amazon and Smashwords. Even better (as far as my royalties go at least): you can buy from me directly via Gumroad.

Coming soon: print and audio versions.

As always, thanks for supporting my work.

Read the whole story
416 days ago
Another must-read book by Audrey Watters on issues and trends in education technology.
Share this story
Next Page of Stories