Thursday, November 29, 2012

Interview with David Weinberger

Several months back, I had the pleasure of reading David Weinberger's book, Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room.  (You can also find it in the Noblenet Library System to borrow, here). Rather than go on and on about the book, which I easily could, I lucked into the chance to interview him for this blog. Following up on his book, I got the opportunity to hear David speak and even the opportunity to interview him.  For more details about David, you can check out his brief bio on the Berman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

Lance:  Let’s start with two fun questions:  Have you looked at your Wikipedia Page?  Have you been tempted to modify it?

David:  Not in years. Of course I'm tempted to modify it. I don't think anyone ever fully agrees with anything anyone ever says about her/him :)  And at one point it said I'm a Canadian, which is factually wrong; someone fixed that eventually.

Lance:  So besides the title, what would be the best tweet-length description of the book?

David:  The Internet is letting us scale up knowledge, which is changing knowledge's nature. #2b2k .  Not very exciting, but under 140 characters.

Lance:  What were some of the surprises or unexpected information/responses you had in composing the book?

David:  Hmm. Writing is how I think and learn, so the fun part is that it's almost all surprising to me. To be specific: I don't know.

Lance:  Do you think copyright law will change?  Do you feel organizations like Creative Commons have it right or is there another uncharted arena with which to explore?

David:  CC works within existing copyright law; it lets you specify a far more useful and human set of terms, without requiring a change to copyright law. It's wonderful. But as most CC'ers would agree, we also need to change the law.

I thought the Republican Study Committee's report on copyright law, issued last Friday and withdrawn on Saturday, was a terrific starting place.

Lance:  You argue that the Net isn’t as much as an echo-chamber as naysayers like to pretend it is.  That is, that people don't easily slip into mob-mentality to validate and encourage their groupthink.  Yet how would your argument apply to something like cyber-bullying, where the same (if not similar) dynamic is at play?

David:  That's not exactly what I meant. Echo chambers are real. But the fear that the Net is nothing but an echo chamber seems to me to be based in part on a misunderstanding of how conversation and understanding work.  Conversation requires a huge amount of agreement over values and beliefs, just as in an echo chamber. But nasty negative echo chambers certainly exist.

Lance:  Though you applaud the multiplicity of knowledge in your book, you also note that there is some knowledge that is or can be clearly wrong (To be honest; I forget if this was specifically in the book or just from your lecture; can’t seem to find the passage, so I’m not sure).  Do you feel society is heading towards a “knowledge cliff” in some capacity?

David:  If the post-cliff position is that we are not able to come to agreement, then we've been over that cliff from the beginning. The Net has made it clear that we're not going to come to agreement, even when the facts are clear. But we are also discovering/inventing ways to deal fruitfully with disagreement. Not always, but sometimes. There is hope, therefore -- not hope that we'll all agree someday, but hope that we may learn to benefit from those disagreements.

Lance: Do you see any leaders (cultural, political, etc) that are working from the vantage point of the innate common ground between different groups/views?  

David: These are what my friend Ethan Zuckerman calls "bridge" figures. He's writing about people interpreting one culture to another, but there are bridge figures across most of our differences. And, not to be too much of a Reddit fanboy, but IAMA's are a forum designed as bridges. As for particular people, well, I'm terrible at that type of recall.

Lance:  You discuss a lot of the positive elements of the Internet, but what bothers/frustrates you the most about the Internet and the new forms of “knowledge”?

David:  Everything, except info overload. I don't buy that we're overloaded. But I am deeply disturbed by the fact that people now can more firmly believe wrong ideas.

Lance:  What advice do you have for those who encounter the Internet with trepidation about the information potentially made available to them?

David:  Grow up. If you want your information spoon-fed by a bunch of white men, get in your time machine and go back 20 years. Otherwise, if you genuinely don't know what to believe on the Internet, find some real-world friends on the Net and find some mainstream authorities on the Net, and listen to them.

Lance:  What do you think will be the characteristics of next phenomenon on the Internet?

David:  We won't know until it happens. It may perhaps have to do with something that we can do at scale that we otherwise couldn't have imagined.

Lance:  You talk about the idea that human brains can't process the depth of knowledge and complexity in the world and on the Internet?  Are we on the path to the singularity?

David:  If "singularity" means being able to transfer consciousness to computers, then no. That dream is based on an unwarranted belief that brains are purely formal, and that anything in that form -- i.e., that has the same relationships among the neurons -- is conscious. That confuses the map with the territory. If "singularity" means we can do amazing things due to exponential growth, then we've been there for 20 years.

Lance:  What challenges does the new information frontier hold for educational institutes big and small?

David:  The focus on educating individuals, learning as a private activity, the emphasis on test-taking, the write-a-report model of learning, the evaluation of individuals, the assumptions about long-form thinking, the reliance on textbooks, the cost of education, the digital divide, the prestige of printed journals...

Lance:  How would educators contend with this new frontier in an effective manner?

David:  We'll know when today's students are the senior teachers. But the most obvious things are: 1. Educate constantly in how to use the Web; 2. Encourage public, social, web-form learning.

Lance:  Besides of course your own book, what recommendations for reading (books, articles, or sites) might you have for an educator trying to get a better grasp around the Internet and its implications for education?

David:  I'm terrible at this. I freeze. I worry about the stuff I forgot. So, I'll just point to Brown and Thomas' A New Culture of Learning.Oh, and Clay Shirky.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pinging Students in the Online Environment

What follows is focused on online learning, but I think that it has weight with consideration to even face to face classes.
pinging:  present participle of ping (Verb)

  1. Make such a sound.
  2. Cause (something) to make a such a sound.
Pinging  is an onomatopoetic word; it sounds like the sound it makes.  "Ping" often indicates a higher pitch sound, often like a formal dinner bell.   Within the digital world, it has its origins with blogging.  It's a means to sending out an alert to various sites that your site has updated (akin to the dinner bell, it's a sound going out to indicate that people should come in).

Borrowing from the above, I'm going to discuss the idea of "pinging" our students.  Herein, we'll talk about why to ping students, ways to ping students, and how to make pinging efficient.  This is very important for online courses but also have value in the face to face classes.

Why Ping
The concern about pinging the students often centers on recognizing them as adults and determining that they can make rational clear choices and decisions--they don't need to be babied as the saying goes. But I don't know if that's entirely accurate (both that they can make rational clear choices and decisions AND that pinging them is equivalent to babying them).
Over the last 50 years the college environment has significantly changed.  From researching in the library to researching at home at 3am in your pajamas, from dorms so students can live on campus to online education where students may never visit the campus, the context of learning continues to shift.  What that means for the typical college student is the are given less cues to direct them to their learning.  It's not them being lazy so much as there is less contextual cues for them to go do their work, because their personal, professional and school life are much more intertwined and shifting from one to another though easy in one sense, is still a cognitive shift that needs some nudging and direction.

Reluctant instructors often feel it's not their responsibility to remind their students and I have certainly felt that at times.  Yet, I cannot deny my own experience that when I do send out reminders and such, I get more students submitting their work on time and more students willing to acknowledge and discuss the missing deadline.  If scheduling an extra reminder or two generates better success for my students, I'm inclined to favor it as a practice.

Ultimately, it's about helping to prime the students so that they can make better choices in their lives.  If we know that they are bombard with hundreds if not thousands of advertisements a day along with scores of emails, texts, and phone calls; it can be extremely hard to remember or recall or even shift focus onto course work.  A reminder from the instructor can help nudge the student into the needed mindset to get the work done.   

Finally, with particular attention to the online environment, students can feel awfully isolated.  There is no physical classroom and much less human interaction.  The instructor can use pinging as a way to provide a life-line to a student who is teetering on the edge of failing or passing, of staying or withdrawing from the class. 

Ways to Ping

Class Recap Email & Announcement:  One way to ping the students is to send a class email reminding them of what was gone over in the Face-to-Face or Online Class using the class-email feature and the announcement  feature in Angel.  This is a great opportunity reiterate reminders and identify important points from the class.  It's also an opportunity to identify and validate their work and contributions to the course.  It's useful to use both the Announcement in Angel as well as the Group Email to make sure that everyone gets the opportunity to see the message.  It's often easy to compose the message in Announcements and then copy and paste it into an email.   

Assignment Deadline Reminder:  Whenever there is an approaching deadline for an assignment either due in class or online, I often send a 1 week reminder and a 24-hour reminder.  As I'll talk about in the automate feature, this isn't particularly time consuming and again, serves as a useful way for students get in any last minute questions or map out their week better.

Create  a Course Hashtag You could also create a course hashtag for your class on Twitter so students can be reminded, ask questions, or interact while on the go.  This can also be useful since peers might be able to respond more timely than you.

How to Make Pinging Efficient

Copy previous messages There's no need to reinvent the wheel.  Once you've created a message, copy it, being sure to change the dates, assignment, and other relevant information.  

Create temples:  Depending on how many different ways you want to ping your class, it might be useful to set up templates for each kind such as Assignment Reminders, Assignment Changes, Missing Assignments, Recommended Readings, Sharing Timely Research/Information Related to the Course, General Check In ("How are you doing?"), etc.  This allows you to just plug in the specifics and send it off to students.  

Automation in AngelWith both of those steps achieved, you could also create a series of automations within Angel which will automatically ping your students (with emails) upon different events within the course (submitting or failing to submitting an assignment, failing to log into the course for more than a determined period of time) or just general reminders in relation to course events (1 week prior reminder, etc).  This is a great feature as it allows you to create the automation and it will run on its own at the correct time; you can also copy these over from semester to semester.  
Ultimately, the goals are to make sure students do not feel they are out on the wild frontier with no real interaction from their instructors and to do the best we can to help guide and remind the student towards accomplishing the tasks and work within the course.  

What ways have you found to ping your students?  What combinations do you see most success with?  For what reasons might you want to ping your students?

ANGEL Tip #6: Adding Icons

As you look at how you have organized your course materials in ANGEL, you might want to think about further customizing it.

A great "HELP" icon?
Icons are a great way of adding a bit of particular detail to your course.  You can use specific icons to point your students to specific content.  For example, you might want to use an arrow for the “start here” section.  I like a "group" icon to designate the Discussion Board Folder or one that shows a box for the Drop Box folder.  A student would clearly know what type of content is located in these folders.  Once in the folder, you can use an icon to designate a particular week . 

It is important to be consistent with your icons. Too many different ones would make it confusing for your students.  

ANGEL has a few icons you can use but, to add a specialized icon for a folder, you will need to download icon images to your desktop and then upload them into ANGEL. The icon must be saved as a GIF or JPEG file.  If, after you upload them, you notice the image is not clear it means the image is too small.  You might have to either resize it or find another image.

A great "Video" icon.
You can use icons of your own or there are plenty of free sites on the web for you to choose from.   I found some fun icons at iconbazar and findicons.  Note: Make sure you only use images that are free and not copyright protected.  A good site for free and open icons is Open Icon Library.

To add customization icons for a content item:
  • Always select the Advanced option under that item’s Settings link.
  • Under the Content tab scroll to the “Link Settings” area. There are two ways to add your icon image:      
           (1) Use one already in ANGEL by clicking on “Browse” in the Link Settings area. Click the Icons tab, select one of the folders, and then click on an icon.  Lastly, click Save. 
           (2) Or to add a special icon, click on “Browse” in the Link Settings area and then the Browse button.  Find the location where you saved the icon on your computer (remember to save it as a jpeg), click Open, and then Upload File.  Click the icon link in the path box and then Save.

If you have special icons that you might use frequently, you might want to upload the icon image to your personal content links in ANGEL.  You can do this by going to the content settings URL link settings area again and click browse. You will see a tab called Personal where you can upload icons you might use consistently.

Hope you enjoy the tip and please let us know of any interesting things you do in ANGEL so we can pass it along!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Document Cameras at NSCC

Document cameras are a classroom technology that are becoming more and more a standard part of the physical classrooms.  The cameras are integrated into the Smart Classroom.  Whether you’ve used this technology before or are using it for the very first time, you can begin to learn or learn more about why the use of this technology in the classroom may help to enhance teaching and learning.  Below are several articles that will give you a glimpse into how you might consider integrating the use of this tool into your teaching.

If you’d like more information about document camera technology here at North Shore Community College and would like to discuss ways to use this in your teaching, please contact me, Dave Houle, at or 978-739-5530.
Have you used document cameras in your classes before?  What did you find useful about them?  What worked and what didn't?  Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

ANGEL Tip #5: Disabling Tabs

You have heard the saying, You learn something new everyday, well today I learned something new about ANGEL!

Many faculty look to me to help resolve issues or help them design their ANGEL courses to be the most effective for students.  I love helping them and in the process I get to see so many interesting ideas and presentations.  By investigating problems I have, on occasion, come across things you can do in ANGEL to make the flow between faculty and student smooth.  The goal is to make navigating through the course as effortless as possible.  Today, a faculty member showed me how to disable the tabs a student can see across their ANGEL course page.  If you don’t use the tab why have it displayed?

Why don’t you take a look and decide if it is a tab you want to keep?

To disable a tab:

  1. Go to your course shell in Angel
  2. Select the Manage tab
  3. Then under the section “Course Settings,” select to Tab Settings
  4. Select the Tabs that you do not want displayed and change the option to disabled
  5. Remember to save

A great way to make your ANGEL course clean and concise!

How else do you try to make navigating Angel less daunting or challenging for students?  What other ways do you try to make Angel more coherent to your students?  Share your thoughts in the comment box below. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

ANGEL Tip #4: Setting Up the Gradebook

It is the beginning of week 7 of the fall semester; a great time to reflect on what the semester has been like.  It is also a great time for students to analyze how they are doing in class.  A great tool for them to use when doing this is the ANGEL gradebook.  It gives the student the insight on how they are doing at any particular point in the semester.

The ANGEL gradebook is available for all courses; it doesn’t matter if it is online, hybrid or a face-to-face course.  Any faculty member can choose to use it.

First thing to consider when doing the gradebook is whether you want to use the point or percentage system.  The gradebook is set up by categories that reflect what percentage of the total grade that category is worth.  Then each category will contain the total assignments that make up that category.
For example – you could have 3 categories:
  • Homework worth 25 % of the total grade
  • Quizzes worth 25% of the total grade
  • Final Exam worth 50% of the total grade

For assignments you could have:
  • 10 homework assignments (each with the best achievable grade being 100)
  • 3 quizzes (each with the best achievable grade being 100)
  • 1 final exam (with the best achievable grade being 100)

The ANGEL gradebook will automatically do the calculations for you as you enter your grades.  No more spreadsheets and formulas to figure out!
Technology is great but it is always a good idea to have a printed or saved copy of your gradebook.  Not only can technology be fallible, but, if, for some reason, a student questioned their grade in the future you would have your own copy of the gradebook even if you were no longer using ANGEL.  It is very easy to do.
  1. Go to the manage tab, then gradebook.
  2. On the left side you will see the print option.
  3. Click on it and generate a pdf. You can even change the font if you would like to view it in a larger size.