My Vision (and Search) for a Connectivist Graduate Program

For the last year, I’ve been contemplating graduate school. I’m still researching and evaluating various programs around the world, but I wanted to take a second and reflect on what I desire from a graduate program. I have many answers to this question, but let me expand upon this idea:

I want a graduate degree program where students teach some of the courses in the curriculum.

I don’t believe this is too outlandish since I’m looking at programs in the field of education, possibly within instructional design. But I’ve had no luck uncovering such a program. So, for now, I’m going to dream. What would such a degree program look like?

Anatomy of a Connectivist Graduate Program

I envision a program founded upon connectivist learning philosophies and comprised of two components:

  1. A core set of curriculum that every student must complete. This is crucial for standardizing instruction for degree components like research methodologies and models/theories of the discipline.
  2. An additional set of courses led by students based on their own expertise. These are intended to be open-ended in regards to content and practice and would vary year to year based on the student body.

To me, a connectivist program necessitates a particular anatomy and entails thoughtful design. As an example, a degree like this would require a set cohort of students that progress through the curriculum together. Such a cohort would need to be comprised of diverse individuals from different backgrounds, possessing a variety of skills. To ensure such diversity, there’d need to be an application process that not only considers expertise, but also establishes cohesion in terms of student backgrounds within each cohort. In other words, this entire process requires careful design considerations.

If it was possible, there would still be several challenges to overcome.

Challenges

The skills to thrive and succeed in a connectivist degree program are not the same skills present in typical educational environment. For instance, I anticipate humility would be a critical element of a connectivist degree for everyone involved. There’s a significant discomfort about not knowing the exact direction of a program as a student or as a teacher; and overcoming these feelings would require a strong emphasis on community and active, inclusive communication between all parties.

Additionally, I foresee accreditation being a serious stumbling-block. In fact, I proposed a “core set of curriculum that every student must complete” as a solution to this challenge. Program viability depends on the consistency of educational quality and rigor from year to year for each cohort. Accreditation is a conversation well beyond what I wish to tackle in this post but it remains a significant challenge. (Not to mention, I don’t have the answer to accreditation anyways.)

With these two challenges, I hope that I’ve illustrated the complexity of design for such a program to exist—intention and care in developing a connectivist graduate degree are imperative. Still, I am determined! If we are to produce the next generation of educators, critical instructional designers, etc., we need to utilize the educational philosophies we champion in the designs of our programs themselves.

Disclaimer

Since I’m still dreaming here, I want to explore a couple of my favorite questions.

What courses would I want to teach?

This is one of my favorite questions in the context of a connectivist graduate program!

One course that I’d love to facilitate would involve exploring productivity using affordable. I know this may sound a little out-there, but I imagine a course where everyone is limited to $300 worth of technology and must participate with minimal computing devices—including designing instruction to operate on inexpensive technologies. Specifically, I’m interested in engaging others in curriculum around $100 laptops, $50 phones, or $50 tablets? What does a Domain of One’s Own project look like under these parameters? A portion of this curriculum would focus on socioeconomic barriers and issues related to digital redlining.

Another course I’d love to teach would focus on interests that I’ve explored in both GOBLIN and XP—I’d love to teach a course about digital storytelling, game design, and what games have to teach us about learning. I see many opportunities to engage others with information literacy, media literacy, and various digital literacies while participating in experiential learning and exploring creative expressions. Ideally, part of this course would involve developing games and discussing them as transformative experiences with opportunities to pursue action research and/or academic research.

What courses would I want to take?

On the flip-side of teaching in a connectivist graduate program, there are many topics I’d love to explore.

For example, I’d love to learn more about practical use cases of APIs in the classroom and beyond. From personal workflow automation to manipulating sets of data across the web, a practical API course sounds phenomenal. I’d imagine course projects would range from building APIs to utilizing public APIs and engaging in the conversations of the future of APIs in education.

Also, I’d love a course on “crowdsourcing” and how it can be implemented instructionally into courses and/or research. Topics like large scale community driven problem solving and hosting crowdfunding campaigns for social work. These projects would make for some spectacular curriculum in my mind. Crowdsourcing as an instructional tool is not typical and I see a lot of potential around a such a course since there are a multitude of directions and applications for the idea.

Looking Forward

I know this post presents small and specific examples as part of gross oversimplifications of larger ideas. But I write because I see value in a connectivist approach to graduate education. I provided examples of student-led courses because they demonstrate to me the strength of connectivim and highlight where traditional curriculum falls short. Student-led courses can be built on personal passions and current conversations. A dynamic program might be tailored to the participants, current technologies, and cutting edge scholarship; not to mention, scaffold greater transference of connectivist (etc.) theories to practice!

At the end of the day, the core of my dream—what I value most in my education:

  1. The opportunity to be viewed as an aspiring scholar, rather than just a student;
  2. A program that practices what it preaches, instead of defaulting to lecture and discussion of readings;
  3. The promise of growth and not feeling indoctrinated into standardizations of thought;
  4. Connecting with a community that involves and cares about everyones struggles, development, and experience.

That is why I’m envisioning a degree program constructed with connectivist learning philosophies because we should make our programs reflective of the educational ideas we champion.

Before I close, I want to take a moment and shoutout to Martha Burtis & Sean Michale Morris for their recent talks on Critical Instructional Design:

Although the topics from their presentation does not necessarily relate to the content I cover, their words were an “inspiration catalyst” for me to finish writing this post, which began a few months ago.

Anyways, what are your thoughts on a connectivist graduate program? Is it possible? What are the risks? What are the benefits? Am I crazy? 🙂 Let me know.

The featured image is provided CC0 by Baim Hanif via Unsplash.

10 Notable Ideas From InstructureCON 2016

I’m aware that this post is overdue since InstructureCON concluded two months ago, but I wanted to share a few ideas from the conference. If you prefer a breakdown of the sessions I attended, I recommend checking out John Stewart’s eleven posts linked in his concluding reflection.

EdCamp – InstructureCON Un-Conference

1. Canvas Mentor Professors: This idea capitalizes on transforming both the early adaptors and heavy users of Canvas into becoming mentors of other instructors across campus. The goal is to crowdsource the Canvas support system for faculty and showcase examples of ideal Canvas implementations, giving instructors context for how Canvas might be used in their own courses.

2. Student Feedback Of Courses: Have students provide anonymous feedback on the structure and design of courses to help faculty improve their designs. Too often, we make course design decisions from the perspective of an instructor rather than a student. This pragmatic approach is an opportunity to enhance our courses to best meet the needs of our students.

3. Educating Teachers & Students On OER: One of the practices I heard from other institutions, was using Canvas trainings as an opportunity to engage both faculty & students in learning more about copyright, open-educational resources (OER), and media literacy. Teaching faculty about Canvas Commons and OER in tandem aims to empower instructors to incorporate open materials into their curriculum and know what that means for their courses.

Sample Canvas Commons content, some of which is OER
Sample Canvas Commons content, some of which is OER

4. Canvas Camp Via Email: One idea with similar intentions to the Canvas Camp trainings we host was broadcasting daily Canvas challenges via email. This aims to engage faculty in learning a little more about Canvas everyday. If faculty complete all of the challenges outlined in these emails during the week, they would end up producing an entire Canvas Course. With the right amount of scaffolding (instructional videos, written guides, etc.) the reach of this type of self-directed training could be significant.

InstructureCON – Day 1

5. Student Information Systems (SIS) Are Not Always Necessary: I understand this is a heated topic, but I witnessed one person replace the functions of a SIS using Google Apps Scripts and the Canvas API. Student data was housed in Canvas and the operations of the SIS were performed using a few lines of code and Google Forms. Interestingly, this setup was both efficient and easy to use since interactions with the student data were simplified to a few forms. Feel free to explore a Canvas course that outlines how this was accomplished or read more about the session where this idea was shared.

6. Moving From API To LTI Integration Can Be Detrimental: I have to pick on TurnItIn for a second since this is a perfect example. Here was the API implementation of TurnItIn:

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 2.00.51 PM

What is great about this is the discreet implementation of the TurnItIn service. In other words, the API integration made it easy for instructors to enable this feature. Additionally, instructors could enable TurnItIn in conjunction with “Media Recordings,” “Website URL,” or “File Uploads” assignments through Canvas. However, the new LTI implementation looks like this:

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 2.04.08 PM

Not only is this less accessible as a service, but it also makes Canvas less functional. For example, when the TurnItIn “External Tool” is enabled, it takes over the Submission Type. Meaning if an instructor wants to use TurnItIn for a paper in tandem with a video of a student presentation, the teacher will have to make two assignments to receive both of these pieces of content. In this case the TurnItIn LTI effectively dissuades people from using more that traditional written assignment types—another example of how educational technologies impact the design decisions in our courses.

7. Build with Accessible Tools: One irritation I had during a couple of the sessions were these beautiful courses that were build using (HTML) pages in Canvas. Design-wise they were excellent, but functionality-wise, they always seemed to ignore the mobile accessibility of their course. To me, sacrificing the mobile experience of a course does not benefit students. Not to mention the exorbitant amount of extra work this involves.

InstructureCON – Day 2

8. Live API Lowers Entry Barrier to APIs: If you have not already seen the Live API page on your instance of Canvas, you should view it now. The URL to access the Live API requires your school’s Canvas domain as follows:

[your-schools-domain].instructure.com/doc/api/live

Alternative, here’s a generic preview of the Live API:

Screen capture of Canvas LiveAPI website

9. Educating Teachers About Online Instruction: Similar to how Canvas professional development is infused with opportunities to teach instructors about OER materials, there’s room to engage faculty in what it means to teach online. This was apparent during InstructureCON, but I’ve seen evidence of this more and more. For example, I’ve witnessed a shift in organization of content in the LMS. Instead of distributing course contents by topic, instructors are now choosing to order their materials chronologically to simplify the presentation of their Canvas courses.

Bonus Idea

10. Making Internet Accessible To All Students: I have to share one idea that was presented during the Pack Light for Performance session. The presenter was in a district that used Kajeet Smartspots in conjunction with Chromebooks to give all students access to the web. This equalization of technology access meant that teachers were confident their online assignments were available to all students. Since, I’m passionate about overcoming socioeconomic barriers and am constantly explore the validity of low cost technologies in the classroom (1, 2), I was ecstatic to see the cellular hotspot approach to making internet accessible to all students!

Please Note

I wanted to take a moment and let you know that post has been difficult to complete. I started writing it during InstructureCON and intended to publish it shortly after, but family matters kept that from happening. Anyways, I just wanted to note that much of this content deserves more in-depth explanations, so if you have any questions, please let me know. I would like to revisit many topics, but at this moment, this blog post is as much a highlight of my Canvas Conference experience as it is a scar that needs to reach conclusion.

Canvas Training Roundup

These last few weeks have been intense work-wise. I’ve been developing and hosting multiple Canvas courses for instructors at the University of Oklahoma. This has been especially nerve-racking because I am (also) learning how to effectively use the tool I am teaching. Fortunately, at the end of the week I will participate in official training from Canvas experts. In the mean time, I will continue this rapid prototyping process that is keeping me afloat. 🙂 Anyways, I wanted to give a brief overview of the training programs I have been spearheading these last few weeks (please note this is not an exhaustive list as these trainings are only the ones I have been involved with):

Introduction to Canvas

Screen-Shot-2016-06-01-at-8.40.51-AM
Keegan’s Intro to Canvas Course Homepage

This is the basic overview of Canvas. It’s an hour long session that’s about 20 minutes of demonstrations and 40 minutes of discussion and Q&A. With this session, I want to introduce faculty to Modules and course organization within Canvas while highlighting the notable features. This presentation is conducted using an example Canvas course rather than just a slideshow. I released these materials to the Canvas Commons for other to use and titled them Keegan’s Intro to Canvas.

Image of Keegan's Intro to Canvas Course in Canvas Commons.
Canvas Commons Page for Keegan’s Intro to Canvas

How to Learn Canvas

The idea behind this training is to empower people to capitalize on the many resources in the Canvas Community to facilitate their own learning. In other words, I hope to produce fishers rather than give away Canvas fish. During this session, I walk people through the workflow I use to explore and learn from community.canvaslms.com. This allows me to highlight different features of the community such as the CanvasLIVE events and community groups. When attendees already possess some knowledge of Canvas and have the intrinsic motivation to teach themselves, this session is poised to equip them with the tools to succeed.

Community.canvaslms.com Home Page
Community.canvaslms.com Home Page

Office Hours

This session is both informal and open-ended. The content is directed by the attendees and their inquiries. From Canvas navigation to specifics about grading and course design, this session aims to provide teachers with any and all answers to their questions. I like to equate this experience to group and individual consultations because when there are multiple people present, the participants get to hear the ideas from their peers in addition to my responses. So far, these sessions have been successful in terms of tailoring assistance to faculty and since they require minimal preparation for the facilitator, they are easy to conduct.

Mini Courses

This is my favorite training at the moment. Mobile Blogging & Scholarship (MBS) is the first Canvas Mini Course. MBS is meant to indirectly introduce people to different features of Canvas as they focus on the topic of blogging from a mobile device. Other Canvas Mini Courses will be hosted in the coming months and will also be fully online 4 day experiences centered around a topic to give instructors the experience of being a student in Canvas (while also participating in professional development). These trainings can range in topic depending on the facilitators interest. Overall, Canvas Mini Course are intended to be a minimal commitment to experientially introduce faculty to Canvas.

One of the notable features I am using to conduct MBS is the Redirect Tool. This Canvas app allows me to embed full websites into the course. Since I can setup a WordPress website to accept blog posts from users without accounts, I have enabled my students to participate in blogging without the overhead of creating a WordPress account or learning the WordPress software—the focus is on the MBS content! You are welcome to read more about this setup here (and an official writeup will be coming soon). Also, MBS is a public course that you can explore here or add the contents to your own course(s) through the Canvas Commons.

Blogging Within MBS Canvas Course
Blogging Within MBS Canvas Course

Canvas Camp

The goal of Canvas Camp is to have faculty build and finalize a Canvas course in four days. This face-to-face training means to simultaneously teach best practices of using Canvas while giving instructors time to development their own courses, incorporating what they learn during each session. Thus, at the conclusion of this pragmatic training, attendees have produced a course to use for an upcoming semester.

Each day of Canvas Camp covers a different topic. Day 1 and 2 are about importing and (re)organizing content within Canvas, while Day 3 and 4 are geared toward interacting with students and the steps remaining to finalize a Canvas course. Whether an instructor wants to build a course from scratch or import contents from a previous class, they are welcome to this training. For those that do not complete their content related to the daily topic, they will have to work outside of the allotted course time to finish developing their course.

Features Speed-Dating

There are many features in Canvas that were not available to faculty in the previous learning management system (LMS). To introduce the multitude of features in an efficient manner, we (the Center for Teaching Excellence) have conceived of a program that is being branded as “Speed-Dating for features.” Faculty will spend a few minutes learning and experiencing the affordances of a Canvas feature before rotating to the next. This program is still in development, but the main idea is that features in this Speed-Dating program are being developed as interchangeable modules that could be used to give a Feature Speed-Dating sessions different flavors depending on the audience. Since this training is still in development, this is all I can say for now. 🙂

Other (Beyond Canvas)

In addition to all of the Canvas trainings, I’ve also been hosting other professional development:

WordPress Office Hours – Like the Canvas Office Hours, this is a come-and-go session that was intended to facilitate group consultations and answer individual questions informally. This style of training is ideal for me at the moment since it requires minimal setup, allows me to address random questions, and let’s me build relationships with faculty while we are learning together. This session was a huge success and I plan on offering more of these during the summer, especially since I got this piece of feedback from an instructor:

I’m very, very, irrationally excited about the progress made on the website this morning.  Thanks for the office hours!

OU Create Training – This introduction to OU Create is intended to give an overview of OU Create while walking participants through setting up a WordPress website. In fact, typically every attendee ends up with a functional WordPress site in under one hour. For more information about this training check out this video walkthrough:

Look Forward

There are so many exciting trainings going on at the moment. My focus moving forward is expanding programs and coordinating with the newly hired Canvas Graduate Fellows to also host trainings. Although this summer is intense, I am looking forward to the next year of building curriculum and facilitating professional development. 😀

The featured image is provided CC0 by Chester Ho via Unsplash.

WordPress 4.4 and YouTube Video Embeds

Update!

After posting to the WordPress.org forums, I was offered a few solutions on YouTube video embeds with WordPress 4.4:

Two work-arounds offered by Jeremy Herve:

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 10.39.07 AM

These solutions were originally posted on this forum by Jeremy.

Alternatively, you can wait for the Jetpack update and follow the progress here. In the mean time, I will be using the second work-around offered by Jeremy.

Thank you Jetpack developers and Jeremy for all the work you do!


Original Post

WordPress 4.4 “Clifford” has just been released! I am very excited about it, but I wanted to take a moment and document an issue I am experiencing with YouTube video embed shortcodes:


A simple YouTube video embed uses the video URL in a WordPress Post:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24_gZA6tsuQ

Yields (Working):


Alternatively, you can use the embed shortcode to embed a YouTube video:

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 1.48.03 PM

Yields (Working):


However, using YouTube video embed shortcodes does not seem to be working:

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 10.13.04 AM

Yields (Not originally working):

Update!

There are two work-arounds to make this work. Please see the beginning Update! section of this blog post for more information!


I am a heavy user of YouTube video embed shortcodes since they allow me to customize the video player to match my WordPress theme and disable the suggested videos that normally appear when a video ends. Thus, I am hoping this will be remedied in a future update!

Don’t get me wrong. I am very excited about WordPress 4.4! With this update comes the notable additions of REST API and the ability to embed WordPress posts:

New Embeds Feature in WordPress 4.4

Both of these features are extremely important additions to WordPress. With the recent release of the Calypso App from WordPress.com the development of WordPress, as a whole, has been phenomenal in the last few months!

This WordPress future looks extremely bright!

Easiest API Ever

Using the “Simple API” from Unsplash, I am able to present random images ever time this page loads.

Go on, refresh the page to see the Simple API in action! 🙂

The Best Part

You can add this Simple API to your websites using the following HTML text:

<img src="https://source.unsplash.com/random" />

And variations of this link can be used to change the parameters of the Simple API. For example, Unsplash photos from specific users, like erondu, can be acquired using the modified HTML text:

<img src="https://source.unsplash.com/user/erondu" />

Or specifying Unsplash photos from a certain category, like Nature, can be obtained from the following HTML text:

<img src="https://source.unsplash.com/category/nature" />

The Simple API is much more robust than I am depicting with these few examples. So, I suggest exploring more at source.unsplash.com to get a better idea of the affordances and potential it possesses.

Increasing Reachability

The beauty of the Simple API comes down to making APIs easier to use for the general populous. Distributing API content using (the familiar technology) hyperlinks allows more people to take advantage of this technology since they do not need the background knowledge required to use a traditional API.

In other words, lowing the required-knowledge barrier will increase the usage and reachability of the API.

Of course Unsplash offers the full JSON API for those that are interested, but being able to use source.unsplash.com without needing to know how to use a traditional API is a fantastic alternative!