Digital Learning Working Group Meeting – 30 October 2018

We gathered in WCC 245 again, slightly different group of folks in attendance, but certainly some familiar faces. We’re starting slowly to develop a group of usual suspects around digital learning. 🙂

The focus of our discussion was online textbooks, an issue Truett Cates brought to our attention but one that several Working Group participants had experience with and thoughts about. He discussed his concerns with online textbooks’ interfaces and how they are different in each case, publisher to publisher. They curate assignments within the textbook app, so that means another administration team to deal with if/when things go wrong. Mike Higgs seconded Truett’s sense that Cengage is particularly bad at this aspect of online textbook development.

I (Brett Boessen) steered the discussion toward open education since I had recently attended the conference. Drawing on the open education community and its practices for OER development can empower faculty by allowing us to directly shape the scale and scope of the resources we ask our students to use. The Working Group thought this might have enough legs among our colleagues to develop as a separate initiative, so we decided to look into that more.

The Group also revived an idea from a previous meeting about creating a digital networked space for discussion in between face to face meetings, and we decided Slack might be a good tool.  If you are an Austin College faculty member who would like to participate in the Slack, send Brett a request via email.

Johnson Center Session: Digital Tool Share

I’m here semi-live-blogging our latest Johnson Center session, “Digital Tool Share: Nailing Down and Ratcheting Up Your Digital Pedagogy” (slides will be available on the Johnson Center web page).

12:30 – Finished up with a reminder about this site and to talk to me if you’re interested in discussing more the possibility of Open Education at AC.

12:05 – Turning to group reporting.

  • Classroom Salon – online annotation tool. Can easily get away from you but useful for intraclass communication.
  • Scalar – digital publishing app that helps create pathways/linkages and visualizations.
  • RooFolio – a “blog kind of thing” which allows production of eportfolios. Frustrating interface.
  • Moodle (for commenting) – Did spark discussion, but requires manual checking of each entry.
    • Classroom Salon sorts for who posted what.
    • Moodle can do this too if you use the Discussion Forum tool.
  • Organization and logistics of graded discussion writing – Can be problems with front-loading/tail-loading, not posting enough in length and/or depth.
  • Tools that look good today can be gone tomorrow.
  • Hypothes.is – web annotation tool. Had the unintended consequence of migrating the social structure of the students into their interactions online.
  • Kahoot – quizzing tool. Great for breaking down complex concepts step by step, but requires students to have their phones open and in use in class. Notably used frequently in the K-12 world, so students are likely to be familiar.
  • Socrative – quizzing tool. Can also be used for polling class preferences. Helpful for faculty to take temperature of the room and then potentially retool class organization.
  • Survey Monkey – polling software. Use it for pre- and post-tests to help students see how they developed during the semester.

12:00 pm – Listening in on a few groups, some have taken the group sharing shell I provided and run with it, turning more to a discussion model and letting the conversation range wherever it might want to go.  Love it. 🙂

11:55 – I’ve asked the attendees to break into small groups to discuss digital learning successes and/or failures in their own experience. Lots of good chatter happening right now.

11:50 am – I’ve just finished talking about some broad trends in Technology and Education, focused on Bryan Alexander’s excellent Future Trends in Technology and Education trends analysis, as well as providing a thumbnail sketch of a summary of my visit to the Open Education Conference last month.

Do you have a digital learning approach that works?

Next week we’re doing a Johnson Center session on successful (and unsuccessful?) digital learning approaches in Austin College classrooms.  A crowdsourced digital pedagogy dragnet that we’re hoping will help your colleagues identify potential new approaches to their teaching.

And we need your help! If you’re reading this blog, you probably are using the very kinds of approaches to implementation of digital tools and practices in the classroom that we’re looking for!

If this is you, please a) leave a comment below indicating what you do, why it works, and how others can find out more about it, and b) come to the session on Thursday the 8th at 11:30 am. 🙂

Digital Learning and Pedagogy Continues!

OK – we were gone for a while. But we’re back!

This time around, we’re focusing on small group interactions and collective problem solving, to wit: some notes from our first Digital Learning and Pedagogy working group meeting.

Past, Present, Future

I had asked the group to organize our thoughts about digital learning at Austin College loosely around chronology: what has already happened, what is happening now, and what do you anticipate happening in the future.

Past – What issues have you run into?

To start us off, Julia Shahid noted that she’d had some problems with Classroom Salon’s recent shift from a completely free model to a tiered pricing or “freemium” model; John Richardson had similar issues with software updates to Explain Everything (both have talked about these tools in their Mellon grant project proposals and updates elsewhere on the site).

This issue of software updates “breaking” pedagogical workflows is certainly not new(s), but it continues to impact how effective and efficient we can be in employing digital networked tools for our students’ learning. We discussed the way this creates student “dependencies” on one workflow that then makes it harder to extricate oneself from should an update require reworking procedures for access and/or use.

We also discussed Turnitin.com, which Randi Tanglen indicated has a solid feedback tool built into it, but of course requires some level of buy-in to the entire system in order to be truly useful. This led us to wonder whether the process of building better feedback is one we could begin to take on, researching and testing what’s out there now and to what extent such tools could be useful in the small liberal arts context in which we work.

Present – What are you working on now?

The discussion then turned to opportunities and issues happening right now for the group. We discussed two projects in active development: timelines in Chinese history courses, and rich media production for oral history projects.

Larissa Pitts described how she has been working on ways to incorporate timeline software into her Chinese courses in order to help her students sort through their ideas. The visual arrangement of a timeline is helpful in this regard, but when handwritten or printed in a word processor document, can be limited by factors unrelated to the course (such as artistic and/or design skill limitations, or the lack of easy incorporation of visual media like images and maps). So a digital solution can make those issues much less onerous and consequently help students get to the good stuff – the learning – more effectively.

Felix Harcourt also talked about multiple versions of an oral history project in which he has students participate. Currently, the project is text only, but we talked about ways he might incorporate more rich media sources – images, audio recordings, video – as a means to help students develop more complex interpretations of their research.

Future – What opportunities and issues do you anticipate?

Toward the end of the meeting, we shifted again to longer-term questions. I offered the typology used in the Horizon Report – sorting problems into “solvable,” “difficult,” and “wicked” categories according to our ability to understand and/or solve them – and we discussed a few problems relevant to us at Austin College.

One issue that came up right away is wanting to try to identify what skills entering freshmen are bringing with them from high school. This impacts a number of facets of digital learning and pedagogy, including some we had already discussed like “student dependencies” on existing tools. If Texas schools are primarily built around the Google-verse (hint: they are), then perhaps our dependency on Microsoft tools just makes our collective job harder, as we spent large amounts of time helping them retool. The group felt this problem was solvable.

This discussion of tools the college has committed to quickly turned our attention to Moodle and the question, should we be committing our resources there? This question has come up in the past, both in conversations we’ve had on other occasions, and through the two faculty surveys on digital pedagogy conducted in 2012 and 2017. The group felt this problem was more difficult: we can see that Moodle is troubling for many users, faculty and students alike, but we also seem to need or want some form of learning management system (LMS), so perhaps Moodle is best worst option.

We ended our discussion with a question that is surely difficult if not wicked: What do we want our technologies at Austin College to do (be?) for our students? What functions ought it to serve, and in what ways might it help them to learn more deeply and effectively? We did not develop any answers, but we did commit to coming back to this question at future meetings to try to begin addressing it.

Quick Tip

In the course of our discussion, one kind of tool did come up that I told the group I would get back to them on, and that is “text expanders.” These are tools that

The next working group meeting will be on October 16th at 1130 am, again in WCC 245.

What Might Digital Wisdom Be and How Could It Help Us?

I’m appreciating Adam Copeland’s piece at Hybrid Pedagogy on “digital wisdom,” which he describes as “a pedagogical approach to technology and the classroom that does not stop at whether or how students may access digital devices in my classroom, but seeks also to address why it is important that students critically engage these very questions.” He offers four “pillars” that he uses in his own considerations of how to craft assignments for his students, each an important reason why he would choose a particular tool, design an assignment in a particular way, or engage students from a particular perspective.

This advice runs parallel to the “not digital pedagogy, just pedagogy” discussion we’ve been seeing lately (e.g.: here, here), in that Copeland’s conception of digital wisdom is a call for us to “move away from easy answers” and move toward pedagogical goals that deepen and expand our students learning.  He links to a range of assignments by himself and others that address his pillars – forming collaborative relationships with peers, preparing for citizenship, encountering difference and disagreement, and welcoming complexity – in concrete but theoretically informed ways, which is a particularly helpful approach for teachers interested in getting started with digital pedagogy.

I would like to push back a little on the way he sets up this helpful discussion, though, because for me, a term like “digital wisdom” can be used even more powerfully than just “the why” of asking students to engage a particular question.  By drawing on the term wisdom, we have an opportunity to activate ancient conversation about the role of practice and the practical – the how – in serving as not only a counterpoint to the why, but also an important aspect of its foundation.  Aristotle called it phronesis, others have used metis, but when we use terms like judgment, prudence and (practical) wisdom, we refer to that process through which we learn from our practices; the how deeply informs and ultimately serves as the foundation for the why. This process, of formulating a why, crafting a concrete how that hopefully enacts that why, and then reflecting on the nature of that enactment and usually making practical changes to the how in light of that reflection, is the very practical and grounded nature of the practical wisdom that pedagogues perform on a regular basis.

Through this process, we come to see ways that the why and the how are intricately linked, and we come to understand both more deeply than dogged application of the why to the how without such process will overlook. Copeland’s argument is crucial to the direction we all must turn in the future, as it recognizes the need to look past the newness and shininess of digital tools to the ways they can help us deepen student learning.  But if we’re not also closing that experiential learning loop ourselves, we’re missing out on significant opportunities to deepen our own learning.  Digital wisdom should be more than the why – it should be the why informed by the constantly developing nature of the relationship between the why and the how.

What Might Digital Wisdom Be and How Could It Help Us?

I’m appreciating Adam Copeland’s piece at Hybrid Pedagogy on “digital wisdom,” which he describes as “a pedagogical approach to technology and the classroom that does not stop at whether or how students may access digital devices in my classroom, but seeks also to address why it is important that students critically engage these very questions.” He offers four “pillars” that he uses in his own considerations of how to craft assignments for his students, each an important reason why he would choose a particular tool, design an assignment in a particular way, or engage students from a particular perspective.

This advice runs parallel to the “not digital pedagogy, just pedagogy” discussion we’ve been seeing lately (e.g.: here, here), in that Copeland’s conception of digital wisdom is a call for us to “move away from easy answers” and move toward pedagogical goals that deepen and expand our students learning.  He links to a range of assignments by himself and others that address his pillars – forming collaborative relationships with peers, preparing for citizenship, encountering difference and disagreement, and welcoming complexity – in concrete but theoretically informed ways, which is a particularly helpful approach for teachers interested in getting started with digital pedagogy.

I would like to push back a little on the way he sets up this helpful discussion, though, because for me, a term like “digital wisdom” can be used even more powerfully than just “the why” of asking students to engage a particular question.  By drawing on the term wisdom, we have an opportunity to activate ancient conversation about the role of practice and the practical – the how – in serving as not only a counterpoint to the why, but also an important aspect of its foundation.  Aristotle called it phronesis, others have used metis, but when we use terms like judgment, prudence and (practical) wisdom, we refer to that process through which we learn from our practices; the how deeply informs and ultimately serves as the foundation for the why. This process, of formulating a why, crafting a concrete how that hopefully enacts that why, and then reflecting on the nature of that enactment and usually making practical changes to the how in light of that reflection, is the very practical and grounded nature of the practical wisdom that pedagogues perform on a regular basis.

Through this process, we come to see ways that the why and the how are intricately linked, and we come to understand both more deeply than dogged application of the why to the how without such process will overlook. Copeland’s argument is crucial to the direction we all must turn in the future, as it recognizes the need to look past the newness and shininess of digital tools to the ways they can help us deepen student learning.  But if we’re not also closing that experiential learning loop ourselves, we’re missing out on significant opportunities to deepen our own learning.  Digital wisdom should be more than the why – it should be the why informed by the constantly developing nature of the relationship between the why and the how.


Digital Pedagogy Metis in Online Discussion Forum Advice

I’ve experimented for years with various online fora as tools for fostering student discussion beyond the classroom walls, with mixed success.  I’ve tried both optional and required assignments (certain numbers of posts and/or replies, etc.), with quantitative (points/grade) and qualitative (comments from me) evaluation schemes.  And I have tried them in a range of different kinds of media studies course, from topical surveys to upper-level seminars to skills-based production courses.  One thing I’ve realized is that the kind of practical advice Heather Van Mouwerik offers in her Inside Higher Ed piece, “Fostering an Active Online Discussion,” might be the most useful in terms of identifying and alleviating individual and group roadblocks to implementation.

For example, as a response to the deafening “crickets chirping” scenario she describes, Mouwerik suggests five practical guidelines for helping to nurture an online discussion forum, including being “the active participant you want your students to be” and redirecting any questions from students to the forum.  These tips clearly come from practical experience working with many course-based forums with her students.

Such metis – practical wisdom or prudence – is a crucial part of digital pedagogy today, especially when the technology behind each tool becomes less and less difficult to wrestle with.  You can learn the abstract theory of how to use this or that tool as well, but it is in its practical application in actual classrooms and/or with actual students that use of a particular tool shifts from an abstract exercise to a pedagogical practice.


Digital Pedagogy Metis in Online Discussion Forum Advice

I’ve experimented for years with various online fora as tools for fostering student discussion beyond the classroom walls, with mixed success.  I’ve tried both optional and required assignments (certain numbers of posts and/or replies, etc.), with quantitative (points/grade) and qualitative (comments from me) evaluation schemes.  And I have tried them in a range of different kinds of media studies course, from topical surveys to upper-level seminars to skills-based production courses.  One thing I’ve realized is that the kind of practical advice Heather Van Mouwerik offers in her Inside Higher Ed piece, “Fostering an Active Online Discussion,” might be the most useful in terms of identifying and alleviating individual and group roadblocks to implementation.

For example, as a response to the deafening “crickets chirping” scenario she describes, Mouwerik suggests five practical guidelines for helping to nurture an online discussion forum, including being “the active participant you want your students to be” and redirecting any questions from students to the forum.  These tips clearly come from practical experience working with many course-based forums with her students.

Such metis – practical wisdom or prudence – is a crucial part of digital pedagogy today, especially when the technology behind each tool becomes less and less difficult to wrestle with.  You can learn the abstract theory of how to use this or that tool as well, but it is in its practical application in actual classrooms and/or with actual students that use of a particular tool shifts from an abstract exercise to a pedagogical practice.

Workshop 2015 Session Notes: Student-Created Video

One of our first two sessions this past weekend was on student-created video: digital stories, video essays, remixes and other motion-picture media students create as an assignment or exercise in a course.  Since that is an area of expertise for me and I was facilitating the session, it probably turned into more of a Q and A than we intended. But to be fair, there are a number of issues, some conceptual, some logistical and technical, that are important to address, so I completely understand the desire to mold it in that way.

We started by talking about what brought each of the participants to the session, and out of that introductory conversation came some useful comments.  Some participants felt that student-created video assignments are valuable because students feel the process of creating a video is more fun than writing an essay.  One question to consider in response to this suggestion is whether this sense among students will be a lasting one, especially as faculty become more comfortable with assigning video projects and genres of scholarly video production like the documentary and the video essay become more established.  Others felt this could also be a detriment, in that the “cute” factor as one participant put it can be more of a driver of the video quality than the intellectual ideas the assignment was supposed to encourage.

We moved from there to a range of concerns participants had with these kinds of assignments.  There were three core issues we discussed during the session:

  • How much tutorial time and effort is necessary with students today to ensure they have the tools available to make a competent video?
  • What about evaluation of video work? Rubrics or other methods of assessment?
  • What is the legality of posting student work online, both in terms of the fair use of copyrighted material and of their own rights to protect their work?

Regarding the first set of questions, I shared that I’ve written a piece for the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) Teaching Dossier called “Production as Plug-in” in which I lay out a number of ways to approach the issue, depending on what your pedagogical goals are. We talked about my argument there in broad strokes, but briefly, my experience is that how much tutorial you build into your course schedule depends both on what your objectives are for your video production assignment and what your comfort level is with guiding your students through that work.  Though you by no means must be an expert, there is probably a minimum amount of assistance you should at least know where to point them to for most projects.

Regarding the second set of issues, we discussed that the key is keeping the focus always on what it is you want your students to practice or develop through the assignment, and crafting your criteria around that.  I did do a little research after the session, and there are some tools out there that are pre-built – edtechteacher.org and EdTech Central both have some good links to others’ rubrics for video projects – and some good advice on engaging the rubric-creation process in more depth so as to create your own if you’re interested.  I don’t use rubrics but I give my students a list of “evaluation criteria” phrased as questions that, if answered in the affirmative, constitute successful completion of the assignment.

Finally, regarding the last set, we talked about how the legality of posting work online is a contentious one, as I’m sure most readers will be aware.  As we discussed in the session, the issue of copyright goes “both ways” so to speak: concerns arise both about the use of others’ material in student projects, and about how free others will be to use student-produced material in their projects.  The latter question is actually easier to address because copyright law stands clearly on the side of the creator.  So assuming the student produced the material entirely on their own, they retain the right to decide who can copy it and who cannot. Enforcing that right is the harder part of that battle, but the volume of new material being produced every day is so great (even just to one sharing site) that students’ projects are adrift in it, so the likelihood of another finding and using a student’s work illegally is also quite low.

Most thorny is the question of whether and when a student is legally allowed to use another’s material in a project for a course.  Such “fair use,” and the nuances of the federal act and the case law that surround it, are both too voluminous for this post and not fully in my area of expertise.  In my field of media studies, we are lucky to be able to build on the work of several scholars who do have that expertise, and who have been working for the last few years to develop a set of “best practices” for working with copyrighted content in video production.  The best statement of those practices currently is a document also produced by SCMS, and while it is oriented toward media studies faculty and courses, it can be generally useful to others as well.

Given the brevity of the session and the scope and depth of these topics, we really only were able to touch on them at the workshop.  But we’re likely to have additional lunch or Saturday morning workshop sessions in the future, so if you’d like to see something like this topic discussed in the future, let us know here in the comments below. 🙂

DP Activity: Wikipedia Assignment

Here’s a potentially useful activity using Wikipedia, from a post over on The Conversation by Ellis Jones.

What I like about this “adopt-a-theorist’s-Wikipedia-page” assignment is that it gets students thinking about the way scholarly work often both is produced and managed: collaboratively and as a process over time, as opposed to solitarily and all at once in a moment of inspiration.

In addition, through engagement with existing pages on Wikipedia over time, students also get to engage with “others who share their interest in improving the quality of information available on a subject they care about.”  Since this happens within the Wikipedia interface, students have the opportunity to enter into dialogue both with the received wisdom Ellis refers to regarding the limited nature of the site’s usefulness, and with their own potentially ingrained notions about the site’s accuracy and efficacy at a given moment in time.

This kind of assignment could be effectively used in a wide range of disciplines, and if even a few students in each course take it seriously and do the work diligently, we all benefit from their contributions to the site down the road.

css.php