Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Experiencing Mastery, Backwards & One Step at a Time, with Julia Child.

Julia Child was terrific at teaching us how to cook, eat and live.

I have no monopoly on this insight.

But it's very enjoyable to be reminded not only how much a very effective and hard-working person can do in a very small space, but also how much Julia Child has to teach us about teaching and learning.

Not long ago, I stumbled across a little half-page essay by Child in a cooking magazine. It's a miracle of compression. In less than 650 words (about a half a page), Child:

  1. defines quiche,
  2. tantalizes us with a description of the dish,
  3. chronicles the dish's culinary rise and fall,
  4. whets our appetite for the dish,
  5. inspires us with a story of how make the dish more easily,
  6. gives a recipe for both the crust and the quiche.

All in eight paragraphs! How many of us could teach half as much in twice the space?

What's going on here? How does Child work this magic?

To start, Julia begins with the result, the end-product: its taste and smell and pleasures. Quiche smells good, and it's part of welcoming friends into your home. This is very motivating. You think: "I want to do that!"

Second, Julia makes the process easier by dropping out unnecessary or more-complicated steps. Her inspiring anecdote concerns an anxious neighbor who dread making the dough. Julia comforted the neighbor by advising her to skip that hard part: just buy a pre-bought crust. Who would be the wiser?

The effect was magical: the neighbor brimmed with excitement at her newfound ability.

We may call this "confidence," but learning experts call it self-efficacy: the feeling of 'I can do it!' Apparently, it doesn't necessarily come from experience. Some people just have more of that feeling. But "experiences of mastery" can boost that feeling of self-efficacy, hence preparing us for greater challenges.

That's what Julia did with her anxious neighbor: made the task simpler so the neighbor could experience a success and feel more confident to approach a bigger challenge. Julia was quite the psychologist!

Cooking is hard. It's a complex, multi-step, goal-oriented process. Changing the salt here changes the taste and texture there. Kneading more or less there, changing the temperature elswhere––each of these changes the end result. So you might have to go through the same process many, many times in order to get each step just right, otherwise the end result may be inedible.

It's difficult to do something without knowing where you're headed. And too much challenge overwhelms us. So these two strategies work very well: (1) emphasize the end result, the goal, and (2) simplify the complex process, in part by reducing the steps.

So are these two clever methods something that applies only to cooking? Hell no!

There are simple names for these methods. The first is sometimes called reverse-engineering. You take the end result and you take it apart to see how the pieces fit together.

The second is an old educational method called (depending on the context) chunking or scaffolding.

  • The idea of chunking is simply: the average person's memory only holds so much information. So in order to hold a long string of info, break it into smaller bits. We do this all the time when we separate phone numbers into three- and four-digit chunks.
  • The idea of scaffolding is simply to help the learner by building a supportive structure around him––like the scaffolds built around a building to work on it as it's being assembled.
    • You give someone pre-assembled bits of the work, so the work is easier, and then over time the learner is able to do the more complex task.

If you teach or train, you can apply the same methods to any complex, multi-step, goal-oriented process.

  • Say you want students to learn to write solid argumentative prose.
    • You might start by asking them to take some apart. Identify the argument, the evidence, the reasoning. Reverse-engineer what good writing is.
    • Then you might give the students the argument and have them support it with evidence and reasoning. Or give them the argument and a pile of evidence and have them pick which evidence supports and which undermines the argument.
  • You can do the same thing with scientific experimentation.
    • You might start by giving students a finished scientific paper supporting a conclusion based on hypothesis-testing. Working backwards, you can ask the students to explain why this particular experimental method was used, why another one would not have worked.
    • Or you can give the students the experiment to run so they can collect the data, or give them the hypothesis and the data and ask them to analyze the data to see if it supports the hypothesis or not.

In short, Julia Child was certainly a miraculously gifted teacher. And like all gifted people, she worked tremendously hard. But her gifts and hard work follow underlying principles. And one of the inspiring things about Julia Child is how much we can learn from her about teaching. Namely:

Any complex, multi-step, goal-oriented process:

(1) can be practiced forwards or backwards––and should be–– (2) can be practiced from any step or 'moment' in the process to the next––and should be so practiced, e.g., by providing pre-fabricated materials for each step in the process and asking the learner to use them so as to lighten the burden of learning.

Learning is hard.

  • Learning anything complex is harder.
  • Learning a multi-step process is hard.
  • Orienting all your thoughts and behavior towards one goal is hard.
  • Doing them all together is very, very challenging.

Julia Child knew how to lower the difficulty level while keeping us stimulated by the excitement and challenge of a meaningful goal. And she does this the same way we should: by starting from the end, working backwards, and making the steps easier by simplifying them or practicing them separately.

––Edward R. O'Neill

Monday, April 7, 2014

Our 'Two Cultures'

Many years ago, a very thoughtful man wrote about "two cultures." The man was C. P. Snow, a Cambridge intellectual, and the two cultures were: scientific and humanistic.

It was a very good idea, a very nice distinction, and it was very influential, and people still talk about it.

But Snow was talking about a divide within intellectual culture, and the most important divide we must come to grips with today is: between intellectuals and practical people. Students and 'experts' often demand that higher education be "practical," and intellectuals take offense, because it rubs them the wrong way to hear that what they have devoted their lives to is not valuable. (Wouldn't you feel the same way?)

So intellectuals focus on what they feel is lofty and valuable and important, and practical people worry about jobs and skills, making and selling things and delivering services––all things intellectuals also need to live. But a good rift makes people forget what they have in common, and that's what this rift between intellectuals and practical people does.

Intellectuals are concerned with ideas, and practical people do things. Yes, being concerned with ideas means doing things: writing and researching and lecturing––and teaching. It's not that "those who can't do teach," but rather: that those who teach do not perceive their professional doing's as teaching; they rather see it as a heap of ideas, facts, principles, theories, and other similar abstractions.

And therein lies the rub.

Ideas are abstract. Actions are concrete. "Doing things" aren't even the same as "actions," because words that name actions are mere descriptions. The words "baking a cake" name an action: they don't get any cake baked.

Those concerned most with ideas often favor them over practical concerns. There really is some substance to the image of the 'absent-minded professor': to intellectuals, many practical details are just not as interesting or meaningful as ideas. But many of the professionals who work with professors find ourselves more on the practical side of the divide. Professors appreciate our help getting things done, but when what we do extends into their idea-domain, things get tricky. And we instructional technologists and designers and ed tech folk experience this daily.

And so practical matters are hard to grasp intellectually exactly because they aren't ideas, and they aren't susceptible to many intellectual (which is to say: abstract) approaches.

Take the law of universal gravitation. It's not in this room, nor on the planet Mars. It's a law, not a thing. The law may govern things (matter, to be exact), but the law isn't itself matter––and it would be madness to think so.

And the same for "social solidarity": sociologists talk about it and measure it, but you can't hold it in your hand. Likewise "meaning" and "reason" and "textuality," and all kinds of other abstractions whose importance we can admit without wishing they were food or water or sunshine.

Actions, like other things, exist in time and space: this thing is to the right or left of that, and I put one foot down first and the other foot down next. Immanuel Kant constructed an astonishing theory about time and space––but reading it won't help you find your keys or walk without falling down, for both of those are doings and not ideas. The idea of walking is subtle and complex––have you ever read anything about kinesiology?––but actually walking is nothing when done right, everything when done wrong.

Yes, matter may be arranged to express and to show and to prove an idea: in letters and numbers and demonstrations and experiments. But those are things and actions subordinated to an idea and arranged beautifully to express that idea. And it is a very special skill to express the abstract in the concrete. Great artists do it. It would be ungrateful to ask ordinary people, even the most thoughtful intellectuals, to approach that level of skill. We have some such expectations, and we're often disappointed, but we also tend not to recognize how high our expectations have been.

Exactly part of becoming an intellectual is: learning to subordinate practical matters entirely to ideas. If you ever went to graduate school, even for a professional pursuit, you likely remember the wrenching process of learning the procedures and norms of your discipline. You only get the ideas by doing things in a very specific way: using words this way and not that, footnoting like this, researching like that.

It's like those scenes in the musical My Fair Lady (or the play Pygmalion from which the musical is derived) in which Eliza must learn to speak properly. Even those who went to college, however briefly, may remember the odd feeling of the persnickety finickiness of college professors, they way they seemed to rephrase our thoughts in slightly different words––oh but those little differences seemed to matter so much! It was like treading on eggshells.

So intellectuals teach. And they believe and feel that they're teaching abstract ideas. And so all the practical matters of teaching often seem just beneath them––and they are: in the sense that practical matters are of a completely different order from ideas.

And yet teaching and learning are completely practical. Teaching and learning take place in time and space. The first day of classes is September 14th. English 216 meets on LC 114 Mondays from 11 to noon. Your paper is due next Thursday in my mailbox by 5 pm.

And teaching at its basis is instructions: do this, then that, in this order. If you can't give clear instructions, you may teach well or poorly, but no one may show up to class. It's not that everything can be reduced to a set of procedures, but if I don't know how to write a paper, I can't show you what I've learned about Descartes.

Instructions and procedures, like so many things in education, are, in a very rich and profound sense, a platform for knowledge, not the knowledge itself––just as words are a platform for poetry, and poetry a platform for feelings and thoughts and experiences and reflections and things.

That's aesthetic: how things are arranged to point at once both towards and beyond themselves, to become gestures whose import we don't just think but also feel and sense in very powerful ways. At that far end of things, teaching is indeed an art: an art of doing and instructing and arranging actions and experiences.

But here and now, at the near end of things, teaching and learning are like, say, project management. And "like" is the key relation here, because practical matters are connected by relations of similitude, by analogy. Baking a chocolate cake is like baking a lemon cake. And baking a cake is like baking biscuits––but different in crucial ways. And baking biscuits is like baking cookies, but again different, etc.

Practical matters are concrete doing's, but they are ordered in relations of likeness, with typical and prototypical instances, and types emerging from the instances: a butter cake, an angel cake, a biscuit, a scone, a muffin.

In the domain of ideas, analogies are risky and suspect: they can work or fail, and much of the domain of logic arose very long ago to prevent analogies from going to far.

And that, in a sense, is how science and the humanities, logic and poetry, parted ways––so that a couple thousand years later C. P. Snow could write about the two cultures.

Today our leap across the divide is a trickier move: connecting abstract ideas and concrete actions. For we who work in education must take all our abstractions and carry them to those who need them: putting one foot in front of the other and hoping we can be graceful enough in ordinary things to get as close as we can to making helping others learn into something very near to art.

––Edward R. O'Neill

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tools, Purposes and Other Fairy Tales

The gift of instructional technology is tools:

  • little tools that do one or two things brilliantly,
  • big tools that do many powerful things quickly,
  • the constant innovation which makes what is hard one day just a click away the next.

And the bane of instructional technology is: tools.

  • Little tools that do a few things poorly,
  • big tools so big they are slow and cumbersome and suck up your time,
  • the constant innovation which takes away your sanity and causes us all to chase the delusion of endless "improvement" which is often only: the need to keep up and to seem to be improving.

Tools are wonderful. Tools are dreadful. When they are new and work, they are magic. When they age and break, they are worse than inert: they aggravate and infuriate; they are deader than the proverbial doornail. And it all happens very, very fast.

Tools are the how, not the way, mere means to ends, and therein lies the problem.

In higher education we are concerned primarily not with means but ends. The human being is the ultimate (earthly) end: her life and purpose and her ability to use her freedom to choose that purpose and to build that life however she sees fit in an understanding that emerges quickly or slowly, early or late, and sometimes even: just in the nick of time.

We subvert the entire meaning of our enterprise when we fixate upon means––tools, that is––and measure those tools only against other tools and not against the purposes towards which our mission points us.

But think about tools we must, for we are IT, and it's what we do. And so we struggle endlessly against the tendency to focus on the how and to forget the why. It is a mental struggle. It is a moral struggle. Sometimes it almost seems like a physical struggle: a gripping in the pits of our stomachs and an itching and tingling in our legs. As long as we live and breathe tools, we will always be uneasy.

What is the prescription for this unease? How in higher ed can we focus away from the tool and towards the ends?

One way is to focus not on the tool but rather on the use case.

A use case is a term of art. It sounds fancy but it's simple. A use case is a story. It's a picture of some things a user does. It's journalistic: like the "lede," that first part of the news story that gives you the whole picture but also whets your appetite to know more.

Write a journalistic "lede" without the "how," and you have a use case: the problem to be solved, the thing our users need to do, the reason that they come to us, their purpose, their 'end.'

  • Who?
  • Does what?
  • When and where?
  • And why?
  • To achieve what?

Subject. Verb. Circumstances. Purpose. A use case is a sentence writ large, exploded into steps. It could almost be the panes of a comic.

And we are the ones who help to figure out the 'how.'

For many use cases, I would like to argue that the 'how' should always be in three sizes.

Just as in the fairybook bears' house, in IT-land solutions come in three sizes. Like the bear story, it's a fairy tale: there aren't really just three sizes. And they aren't just sizes, they're bundles of traits––ownership, complexity, flexibility, and more.

But three is a good number, because looking at and choosing amongst five or seven or ten things is harder. So we in higher ed IT do well to recommend tools in three sizes and kinds.

  1. A free and easy consumer service with just a few functions. It's not meant for professional use but it's adaptable for many purposes. It's not hard to use, though finding all the tricks can take time. And we don't own it.
    • Think flickr for photos, Youtube for video, Dropbox for file sharing, Slideshare for publishing presentations, etc.
    • We don't care that we don't own it. We just need to make the proper warnings about where the data lives, who can access to it, whether the data can be sucked out, our lack of control, etc.
  2. A free service and which has robust-, numerous- and flexible-enough functions that it can be used for many purposes. It takes time to learn, but the learning curve is not steep. And we own and offer and support it, and that means it's geared more towards the kinds of purpoes our users have.
    • At some campuses, it's WordPress. It's run locally. Anyone can request a site. There are already-built resources. It can be used for courses, working groups, projects, etc. It can be public, private or community-only.
  3. A specialized service which we have licensed or built, which has a high degree of complexity. It can be used for many different purposes. You can use it a little or a lot. The learning curve is steep. Whether it's someone else's or not, we bought it and we provide it and so even if we don't own it 100%, we get the blame when things go wrong.
    • Think a sophisticated digital asset management service, or even Adobe's Creative Cloud suite, which many (wealthy) campuses license and which (in aggregate) is off-the-charts in complexity.

As with many choices, it's really a table. This one has one binary distinction and four scales.

type who owns it? how many functions? how complex? number of purposes learning curve?
simple, free & easy someone else few simple one or two none or trivial
our un-fussy service us not too many relatively simple more than a few, less than a dozen non-flat
"our" high-end service us a lot complex many, many steep

But tables are for nerds like me, and a list is more human-readable, and this is one of those distinctions we in IT-land often forget, because "I can understand it," but then I am not the user.

And unlike in the three bears' house, in IT-land each of the three sizes is "just right" for somebody. Every user is a Goldilocks who deserves her chair and bed and porridge just the way she likes it.

  • People who come to us for simple functions can be directed to simple tools––even if we don't own them.
    • And we need to have worked out the use cases well enough so that we can give a short 'getting started' document or demonstration.
    • We don't need to know all the answers––as long as the client knows they are using someone else's pipes.

Unlike many things in IT-land, the process doesn't have 86 steps.

  • Write the use case, and identify the three choices.
  • Give your users a clear picture of the use case: who does what.
  • Help the users choose wisely, and help them get the right amount of support for each choice.
  • Advise your users appropriately of the advantages and pitfalls––learning curve, data ownership, privacy, security, longevity, etc.

If you can get the users to share their successes, then others will see what success looks like, and they too may come to recognize that one size seldom fits all, but there is often one size for each user that is "just right."

––Edward R. O'Neill

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Do I have the rights to publish an image I found in a book or on a web site?

In general: no.

  • Books are copyrighted. The contents whose copyright is not owned by the publisher has been licensed.
  • As the owner of a book, you have a right to make copies for personal use––not to publish or share.

An exception is the doctrine of “fair use.”

copying of copyrighted material…for a limited and ‘transformative’ purpose, such as to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. Such uses can be done without permission from the copyright owner.
  • This includes face-to-face teaching and critical commentary and discussion.
  • But in almost all cases, scholars ask permission before republishing materials they are commenting on critically.
  • And when the materials are on the web, linking back to the original is considered respectful and shows you are not appropriating someone else’s content but rather directing readers to it.

What about an image on a museum’s web site?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Finding a Small High-Quality Digital Camera

Say: under $300.

This is not so easy. I’ve been trying myself: trying to find something small to travel with that also gives good results.

What’s so hard?

  • Smaller digital cameras often have very poor quality images.
    • Some say the size of the sensor is the key factor; others disagree.
  • The jpeg’s in digital cameras are generated on-the-fly. I suspect the engine that does this needs to be good, and they don’t dedicate the chip space/power in a small device to that end. (But that’s just my guess.)

What to do? Four pathways can help you make a choice; they are not mutually exclusive.

(While this blog is normally reserved for thoughts about teaching & learning technologies, a big question we often face is: how to choose the right tool, and so I thought "choosing the right camera" was close enough.)

1. Check out some thoughtful online resources.

  • A recommendation engine. Snapsort.com has a recommendation engine.
    • Their prices are based on the lowest found, and that includes used, so they’re quite misleading.
  • Sophisticated reviews.
    • I find DPreview intelligent and reliable.
      • They’re highly detailed, and so it’s often wise to skip to the next-to-last page of the review (“Conclusions”).
    • Cameralabs does thoughtful reviews. They tend to be only a few pages, but I still often skip to the last page (“Verdict and Scores”).
  • Others’ experiences. I actually find the ratings on Amazon.com and BHPhotoVideo very useful.
    • You can search in price ranges (never accurate on Amazon) and then sort by the average customer review.
    • On Amazon, you can also pick a rating (say: four stars), then sort by “Relevance,” which often excludes some odd items showing up in the wrong place.
    • Individual reviews need to be taken with a grain of salt, as people get cranky about things relevant only to them. But the good reviews are very helpful, and the aggregate is, I think, meaningful.
  • Inductively. Look on photo sites like Flickr.com to see what results others get. If they’re indifferent, either the camera is bad–or it has not inspired enthusiasts (which is a different thing, likely with some overlap).
  • Scientifically. DXOMark tests sensors and lenses and publishes the results.
    • N.B. They’re testing the sensor, not the camera. This seems finicky, but it lets you compare the image quality separate from questions like: are the buttons easy to use?
    • The results are wonky, but they are effectively reduced to numbers, and so this lets you make some rational choices–e.g., “$300 more for lower picture quality? I don’t think so!”
    • You can actually search by size and price, though “under $500” is basically the lowest category.

2. Ask people.

I’m writing this, so I’ll tell you my experiences (not my opinions).

Lately I’ve been testing some smaller, high-quality cameras.

  • The Olympus XZ–2 is the follow-up to the SZ–1.
    • I got this for sale around Xmas.
    • It’s still on sale these days for $300.
    • I’ve been shooting with it lately and quite like it.
    • It has close-up modes for flowers and the like.
    • It has a wide aperture, good for shooting in low light and for separating the subject from the background (i.e., “shallow depth-of-field”).
    • The user has access to manual controls (aperture, shutter speed, etc.). I believe you can also use it very automatically, though I haven’t used that mode.

3. Buy a small, pocketable camera that’s highly-rated by various sites.

  • Cameralabs writes guides for various categories of camera–such as compact cameras.
    • In this category, they recommend (among other, more-expensive cameras):

4. Get something that would normally be more expensive but that’s older and on sale (probably to make way for forthcoming new models).

  • In this category, you’ll find small ‘mirrorless’ cameras.
    • These are like a smaller digital SLR (DSLR).
    • They have interchangeable lenses, like the SLR’s of old. And the lens can be more expensive than the camera.
    • As with DSLR’s, they usually come with a lens whose effective cost is sometimes about $25–a tremendous bargain.
    • If you buy this, you’ll be in a ‘system’ (a combination of camera bodies and lenses and accessories), and so you can eventually get a better lens (even used).
  • In terms of size, these would be more ‘around the neck’ cameras than ‘pocketable,’ though sometimes the lens is a ‘pancake,’ which is small and flat, as the name implies.
  • *Be aware that because the sensor is smaller than 35mm film, the equivalent of a “50mm lens” on an SLR is often a different (much smaller number) on these cameras.
    • A “normal” lens (neither wide angle nor telephoto) is 40–50mm.
    • A wide angle lense might be 28–35mm.
    • A 90–200mm lens would be a telephoto for capturing objects at a distance.
    • The word “equivalent” tells you that, say, a 20mm lens acts like a 40mm lens on the camera advertised.
  • Sony, Olympus, Nikon and Pentax make excellent models.
    • BH Photo & Video has several of this type of camera now selling for under $300.
      • These include cameras whose sensors DXOmark rates very highly:
        • Sony NEX–3N: rated as 74.
        • Nikon 1 S1: rated as 56.
        • Nikon 1 J1: rated as 56.
        • Pentax Q10: rated as 49.
      • By comparison, the Olympus XZ2 I’m using now seems pretty good to me and has a sensor rating of 34.

A general tip: handle the actual camera, if you possible can.

    Try to go to the store and test whatever you want to buy. I find people discover they just don’t like a given software interface or where the buttons are. If you have trouble working the dingus right off, often it doesn’t get much better.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

If You See Something, Say Something: Conspicuous Absences at ELI 2014

If You See Something, Say Something.

I’m not thinking of suspicious packages.

Rather, I’m thinking about the standards and ethics of our profession: folks who support teaching and learning with technology.

In that regard, I saw several things at ELI 2014 which made me want to say something, and that something is basically "What goes on here? What do we as a profession do? And why can we not have a connected discussion about that?

1. I saw a keynote give blatantly wrong facts.

Okay. People make mistakes. Sure.

But this presentation pretended to give a ‘scientific’ basis to teaching and learning.

Should conference presentations perhaps be required to use footnotes?

One writing teacher I know asks this of undergraduates. Students must give a handout that includes:

(1) a short prose summary and (2) a list of references.

Problem solved? Perhaps. But that wasn’t the only conspicuous absence of professional standards on display.

2. I saw a presentation arguing for a certain model of instruction, but the presentation made no reference to other models, nor to any concepts of learning, nor to any existing ideas.

This was an argument in a vacuum.

If we wouldn’t permit undergrads to do it, should we do it ourselves?

This lead me to a fear, which I now articulate. (See something, say something.)

Instructional technology as a profession seems to have no clear sense of standards of evidence––nor are these even really a part of the debate.

Think about any other discipline. History. Physics. Kinesiology.

  • You know what counts as evidence.
  • But you debate why some evidence is more meaningful than other kinds.
  • There are different schools and approaches, and they’re forced to duke it out.
  • Some standards and references are shared, some widely, some narrowly, while others are up for grabs.

Why should learning technology not be the same?

Nor are such issues just about evidence.

3. A presentation ostensibly about program evaluation offered no goal for the program, no significant research, numbers that were blatantly fudged.

Of course, if there is no goal, there can be no measuring. (Measure what?)

In this case I actually asked during the Q&A if there was any theory or concept or idea of learning driving the process. (I couldn’t ask about institutional goals, as the presenters had basically said “The Provost wanted it,” and it was clear no one after that point had even thought to tack on a goal as a fig leaf.)

The answer was: no, we don’t have instructional designers; we have Ph.D.’s. As if planning learning intentionally and being a scholar are somehow mutually exclusive.

It’s easy to understand this. In higher ed, the disciplines are the guardians of standards of knowledge.

  • The psychologists decide what psychology is.
  • The dance teachers decide whether dance is modern or ballet or rolling around on the floor.
  • The English professors decide what counts as literature and literary analysis.
  • Etc.

But it’s shocking to think that (for some at least) this excludes any role for thinking about teaching and learning––or even planning in its most basic sense.

All of which brought me to the terrible near-existential recognition of a central absence.

Instructional technology as a profession seems to have no shared framework for specifying goals and measuring results––hence justifying the value we create (potentially but not only ROI).

  • What kinds of things can we accomplish when we use technology to support learning?
  • What is the size or scope of our interventions?
    • Are we just making it easier to turn in homework?
    • Are we publishing things that were harder to publish before––like lectures?
    • Are we solving psychological problems? Economic problems? Cultural problems?

Of course, some goals are easy to pick out: convenience, efficiency and effectiveness.

  1. At this point in time, convenience reduces largely to what I call x-shifting.

    • Just as the VCR allowed TV shows to be shifted in time and place, now increasingly-smaller computers allow content and experience to be shifted in time, place and platform. These may not be the only forms of convenience, but they’re paramount.

  2. Efficiency is simply doing more with less.

    • We can promise this––but we mustn’t lie: a small-scale study I did at my prior institution showed what I think we all know. With any new technology, you must put in more time at first in order to save time later.
    • This points up a little-mentioned analogy, which really ought to be the core of what we do in learning technology: learning a new technology is itself a species of learning, hence a microcosm for learning-in-general. Helping people learn to use a new technology helps them to re-see with new eyes the phenomenon of learning.

  3. Effectiveness is where we lose all our bearings. Ideally, we’d like to make teaching more effective, for it to generate more learning. But how?

    • What are the drivers of learning? Where are the pedals and the steering wheel? We don’t have a good taxonomy.

      • Better motivation? Sure.
      • Good chunking for better cognitive processing? Okay.
      • Better sequencing of instruction? Absolutely.

But do we have a clear picture of the whole shape of such goals?

I fear not.

When I see something, I can say something.

But that’s different from knowing the answers.

Five Takeaways from ELI 2014 in New Orleans

An academic IT conference in New Orleans begs to be told as a story.

But those stories are mostly about good food and good company. (Beignets!)

The actual “what I learned at ELI 2014” squeezes nicely into a list––or rather, a table.

I personally found five presentations (panels, presentations, poster sessions) compelling. Happily, some of the most expert presenters generously shared their visuals–as Powerpoints or PDF’s.

Five Presentations and Some Resources


{title} Extreme Makeover - Course Edition:
Inspiring Faculty to Innovate and Collaborate in Instructional Design
{what it was} SFSU instructional designers created a course-redesign program
to efficiently support 25 faculty at a time.
{why it’s cool} Staff used a robust and appealing instructional design process for the faculty workshop itself. It wasn’t a question of telling faculty how to teach; rather, the staff actually gave the instructors a positive learning experience and the means to transfer that experience to their own courses.
{the files} The Workshop Process.The Faculty Takeaways.


{title} Google Glass: Implications for Teaching and Learning in Music and Digital Storytelling
{what it was} Two different use cases of Google Glass in higher education: one liberal arts, one for professional education (communication studies and orchestral conducting, respectively).
{why it’s cool} The two use cases seem indicative of broad types of education (liberal arts vs. professional training), and so though the cases are specific, the implications seem broad.

  • The liberal arts use of Google Glass involves capturing video of first-person experience and then subjecting it to critical thought and reflection through the process of editing––much as one does with prose writing.
  • The professional education use of Google Glass involves allowing the neophyte’s POV to be captured via video and then subject to critique, analysis and supportive mentoring by an expert.
{the files} A Liberal Arts Use Case.[As of writing, the Professional Education Use Case PPT was not posted.]


{title} Diving Deep into Data: Motivations, Perceptions, and Learning in Minnesota MOOCs
{what it was} Careful analysis discloses that MOOC users fall into two groups: grazers and strivers. Strivers work hard to overcome the inherent obstacles of the format. But English language skills are an important pre-requisite, and their lack is one of the biggest obstacles to learner success in a MOOC.
{why it’s cool} Careful data collection around MOOCs can actually tell us something about who benefits––so we can make inferences about why and even plan the broad distribution of educational materials accordingly.
{the files} The Powerpoint.


{title} Assessing Student Learning through the Use of Digital Video and Data Mining
{what it was} “Real-Time Mining of Student Notes and Questions” by Perry J. Samson, a meteorology professor. Samson showed how the LectureTools application let him build assessment into his classroom presentations so he could determine what teaching students needed.
{why it’s cool} The instructor can “assess as he goes,” and the students can review material later, including taking their own notes and sharing notes.
{the files} As of writing, the PPT was not shared.


{title} Moving Math Online: Technology Solutions
{what it was} A straightforward workflow for creating online learning materials that include handwritten equations.
{why it’s cool} The approach supports many technologies.
{the files} The Tool Handout.