Academic Technology Expo 2017

Friday, January 13th was the sixth annual Academic Technology Expo (ATE) at the University of Oklahoma. ATE is one of my favorite local conferences because there’s an emphasis on instructors presenting the tools they are using in their classrooms. This helps me gage and pursue various technologies and use cases that interest faculty. Not to mention, ATE keeps me informed about many of the technology initiatives throughout OU classrooms.

This year’s ATE was especially notable between a day (Jan 12th) focused on OU’s new Innovation HUB followed by a day (Jan 13th) filled with phenomenal presentations and the wonderful Keynote speaker, Gardner Campbell!

Telling ATE Stories Through Twitter

The tweets that follow are intended to represent a snapshot of my experience at ATE. They have been curated from the #OUTechExpo stream and will include various individuals. In other words, this post also acts as a “recommended to follow these awesome people” post. Anyways, I’ll try to limit myself to ~5 tweets per session—here we go:

Drupal as a Collaborative Classroom Tool
Students Creating and Sharing Online Annotations through Hypothesis
Wiki EDU - Wikipedia Articles as Course Assignments
Keynote: An Insite-Oriented Education
Making Games for the Classroom with Twine
Students as Makers of Educational Games

Keynote

Reflection

My favorite part of ATE was presenting alongside Lauren and Julie on some of the curriculum they’ve implemented/are developing for their courses. Lauren built a text-based game with her students around the choices immigrants and asylum seekers face. This activity intended to engage Lauren’s students in both research and creative writing that could be showcased outside of the classroom. I love this project because Lauren had her students reflect on every choice they made while developing the game, Sanctuary. What an opportunity for her students to see the world through another individuals point of view and empathize with people immigrating to the United States.

Julie also has a terrific choose-your-own adventure game development activity she intends to implement in her Fall 2017 course around Spanish literature. For Julie’s students, they will practice their language skills while writing plausible, alternative ending to pieces of literature. Checkout the example Julie developed for her students, Las medias rojas, during her participation in eXperience Play. My favorite quote Julie said about why she’s pursuing this activity is that she had “fun” developing her own text-based game and wants her students to have a similar experience in her class.

Sanctuary Cover
Las medias rojas Cover

I felt spoiled at ATE since it was my second time to hear Gardner Campbell speak in the last three months (shoutout to #OpenEd16!) He was phenomenal. What resonated with me from his talk is his portrayal of the internet as a network where everyone is connected, but no one entity is in control, as well as his call to action that we should always be intentional when implementing technologies into the classroom. To me, these are two ideas that drive some of the curriculum and professional development I design. Honestly, it’s hard to put into words much of the inspiration Gardner propagates, so I will differ to the soon-to-be-released video of his talk. I highly encourage you to listen to his encouragement (when it’s posted). Thank you Gardner Campbell!

PS. Gardner Campbell invited us to his Open Learning Connectivist MOOC that starts this week. I wanted to extend the same invitation to you. 🙂

Finally, due to the threat of inclement weather, ATE possessed a high concentration of passionate educators willing to brave the potential of freezing rain. Thus, from learning about Drupal to facilitate collaborate research in the classroom, to engaging students in discussion using group annotations with Hypothes.is, and scaffolding the writing of academic papers with Wikipedia articles, ATE was comprised of some fantastic sessions. I love seeing the results of passionate instructors and the technologies they utilize. Here’s to another great year of learning alongside them.

The featured image is provided CC0 by Riley McCullough via Unsplash.

Our Most Important Canvas Training

Last week was the 19th Canvas Camp hosted at the University of Oklahoma. Looking back on its evolution from May 2016 to today, the dozens of courses developed by participating instructors, and the feedback I’ve received, Canvas Camp is an ongoing success.

Background

Canvas Camp is intended to teach instructors how to use Canvas while they are producing their first Canvas course. Most of our time is spent exploring notable features, developing courses, and problem solving how to design courses in Canvas. All levels of expertise are welcome because Canvas Camp is flexible enough to scale and adapt to suit everyone’s needs—there’s always something to learn in our open-ended sessions! That being said, although this training is meant to teach several components of Canvas, there are many more pieces beyond what we introduce.

Canvas Camp occurs face-to-face in 2-hour sessions over 4 consecutive days. Demonstrations of Canvas, exploration of features, and discussions of course design all take place during this training, however the main focus is the development and completion of participants’ courses!

Before I jump into the design of this training, be aware that my curriculum for Canvas Camp is openly shared using a Creative Commons license and you are welcome to take, adapt, use, repurpose, etc. all of the materials without permission as long as you abide by the license. Additionally, feel free to reach out to me on twitter or via email—I’m always up for a video chat.

Canvas Camp website annotated Gif of home page

Canvas Camp Design

Canvas Camp was built around five main components:

  1. Teaching the technical skills to use Canvas
  2. Engaging faculty in course development
  3. Producing Canvas courses
  4. Reflecting on why the University switched to Canvas
  5. Learning Canvas as part of a community

1. Technical Skills

As with any new tool or software, there are varying degrees of digital literacy and technical expertise of the Canvas Campers. For individuals who possess high technical skills, the Canvas Camp website aims to empower them to progress through the Canvas Camp curriculum at their own pace. For participants who have just started to learn Canvas, the face-to-face sessions provide them with a safe space to ask questions, learn, and experiment on their own or in community with others (including the facilitator).

Canvas Camp is intentionally flexible in design to serve the needs of a wide range of technical expertise.

2. Course Development

Working with instructors over several days offers the opportunity to engage them in course design and discuss the pedagogical implications of their Canvas course decisions. This aspect of instructional design is intertwined with learning the technical skills of Canvas as the camp facilitators explain and discuss the ramifications of decisions made while developing courses. Depending on the feature or design in question these interactions might occur on a one-on-one basis, however there also opportunities to draw on the collective expertise of the instructors present—this often yields rich discussion.

As an example of how course development takes place, a significant shift in organizing course materials has occurred, in part, due to the popularity of Canvas Camp. I see many more instructors organize their course materials chronologically than topically like they did in the previous learning management system (LMS). Granted, both types of organization offer their own benefits and shortcomings. However, now faculty are being more intentional in this design decision. They are engaging with each other and the camp facilitators to pursue what is best for their students. For example, most of the faculty that participate in Canvas Camp opt to use the Modules feature of Canvas to arrange their content by week, unit, chapter, etc. This chronological presentation of material is intended to give their students greater levels of context for the materials they are studying during the semester.

3. Producing A Course

The notable draw to Canvas Camp is the promise to come away with a course, built and finalized. In most cases, we see faculty members complete 75-100% of their course. Sometimes instructors have completed more than one course during this professional development. Regardless, this is heavily marketed to bring people into Canvas Camp.

4. Why Switch To Canvas?

Arguably the most important aspect of Canvas Camp is engaging in discussion with the participants throughout the week. For example, after faculty members have wrestled with Canvas—learned and experienced its strengths and shortcomings—we ask them to tell us why they think the University decided to switch to Canvas. Inevitably, someone always brings up the monetary aspect, but after several minutes of discussion, faculty often suggest the change was made because “Canvas is better for the students,” “easier to use,” and/or “nicer to look at.” All of these reasons are recorded on the whiteboard at the front of the room to highlight positive aspects of Canvas. This reflection is crucial. If you hope to change perspectives about Canvas, give instructors meaningful experiences with the tool and follow up with reflection and discussion. In other words, Canvas Camp also functions a primer (and potentially a model) to tackle larger digital literacy questions related to educational technology and learning management systems.

5. Learning Canvas Together

Training is always more fun together! Canvas Camp benefits from diversity of disciplines, types of teachers, and the people present. The community aspect of this training is integral since participants must turn to one another when they have questions or need recommendations. In particular, this occurs when the facilitators are assisting other attendees. Overall, Canvas Camp is a wonderful learning environment to engage faculty in technological and pedagogical practices of Canvas, but this training shines when it empowers faculty to become both students and teachers to one another.

Reflection

The reason Canvas Camp is our most important training at the University of Oklahoma is not only because it’s our most comprehensive, face-to-face training, but because it’s our most fun.

I know that sounds weird. I realize building courses can be tedious and far from fun. There’s just something special about Canvas Camp that I hope to bring into every other training program I build/facilitate. The comradely of learning Canvas in community paired with the feelings of accomplishment from completing courses is fun. The energetic discussion and informal instructional design that occurred during each session is fun. The creative challenge that coincides with building engaging courses is fun. There’s a lively spirit present with each cohort of instructors at Canvas Camp, and yes you guessed it, that makes it fun!

Beyond the fun of Canvas Camp, this professional development strives to do more than teach software. Canvas Camp aims to shift the culture of the University. Yes, there are many more components to such a process than a single training, but as of January 12th, 143 instructors now have greater confidence to build courses in Canvas (and you have to start somewhere)!

The discussion that happens on the final day of Canvas Camp is crucial for shifting culture. During every Canvas Camp, participants openly express their apprehension and frustrations with switching learning management systems. Giving instructors time to interact with Canvas and see how their courses look and behave in the system affords them the opportunity to naturally grow knowledgeable and comfortable with the change. Highlighting this perspective change during discussion while reflecting on the week of Canvas Camp, emphasizes and reinforces the cultural shift.

There are plenty more aspects of Canvas Camp I could touch on, but this is enough from me for now (feel free to reach out with questions). Instead, here’s a few testimonies from the participants of Canvas Camp:

Testimony

What was the most valuable/useful aspect of this session?

gaining familiarity through doing.

Overall, the camp was terrific. I enjoyed engaging with faculty from other departments.

Very hands on and practical–lots of time to work directly on courses.

The balance of some delivered content, and some ‘free time’ for us to explore Canvas and explore our own content in it. But the free time had the facilitator present to answer questions. That was very helpful.

The most valuable aspect for me was learning the basic mechanics of Canvas. It is overwhelming for anyone trying to self-teach. I also like that the canvas instructors gave specific recommendations for how to optimize course use (ex: enter rubrics directly to use Speed Grader instead of uploading files, etc.)

No doubt: it was the instructor. A truly exceptional educator. He took his time, making sure everyone was able to keep up, yet kept things moving along. Very nice, articulate delivery, good organization.

The featured image is provided CC0 by Carsten Thomsen via Pixabay.

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.

DIY Instructional Video Consultation

In the spirit of John's recent post-per-consultation (PPC) to broadcast valuable information from our consultations at the Center for Teaching Excellence, I am writing my first PPC.

I just met with Mark Norris, a professor of linguistics who recently participated in John & I’s eXperience Play faculty learning community. (Check out the game Mark created here!)

Anyways, Mark is interested in creating instructional videos for his students. Specifically, he wants to show students his problem solving process and explain the reasoning behind every step. This sounded like a fantastic opportunity to provide extra instruction for students who need to focus on certain concepts.

I was excited to see Mark had already experimented with instructional videos, because this helped me understand what Mark wanted to produce for his students:

In the name of features and consistency of quality, I recommended Mark consider digital annotation for his instructional videos. Such tools offer the ability write on documents, expand the annotation space at will, and streamline the video editing workflow. After some discussion, and checking what equipment was available for checkout, I offered Mark two methods for producing digital whiteboard videos: (1) iPad Pro with Apple pencil and Explain Everything Classic, (2) Surface tablet with stylus and Open Sankoré. Mark chose the former and we started exploring what annotated instructional videos would look like when produced from an iPad Pro. Combined with a high-end Blue Spark Digital microphone, Mark now has all the tools he needs to produce some excellent resources for his students.

Working with Mark was phenomenal because I love interacting with faculty who are passionate about teaching and are always exploring how to best engage their students. In other words, I’m excited to see what Mark produces in the coming months!

eXperience Plan

If you are interested in participating in eXperience Play (XP) remotely, I am going to provide a to-do list of items each week. These to-do lists will include a variety of tasks such as playing games, reflecting, blogging, and portions of game development. If you complete all five to-do lists, you will produce an educational text-based game in five weeks. For more information on this professional development, read this blog post, visit the eXperience Play website, or contact me via Twitter or email.

This post corresponds with the second session of XP.

Part 1 – Game Development

1. Watch this video:

Think about the scope of the game you want to build and know that you do not have to make a perfect game on your first try. You are learning!

2. Outline the story/choices of your game (from the idea you were brainstorming last week).

3. Create a storyboard to visually organize the outline of your game. Hold onto this storyboard for next week. Here’s an examples of how the connections in your storyboard may look:

Digital flow chart illustrating liner and circular organizations of stories in text-based games.

Please note that I’m not concerned with an “official” way to storyboard or plan your game. XP participants have developed flow charts on whiteboards, used notecards to represent each “scene” of their text-based game, setup spreadsheets to map out choices, and created digital flow charts using software like CmapTools. Use whatever tools you need/want while planning your game. If you have questions about this or want to engage with us, please reach out to us.

Here’s another example of the planning taking place in XP:

Part 2 – Professional Development

4. Write a blog post about your experience planning your game using the following prompt:

Blog Prompt
  • Write an overview of the process you followed while planning your game. Document what tools you used (whiteboard, notecards, software, other, etc.) and include screenshots of your planning artifacts (complete or in-progress).
  • Reflect and write about how this outlining and storyboarding exercise helped you while planning your game. Alternatively, applying this activity to the classroom, how can outlining and storyboarding a concept or project aid a student?
  • Research & define “Digital Storytelling” in your own words. Describe your outlining and storyboarding exercise in the context of your definition of “Digital Storytelling.”

Please have your plan/storyboard for your text-based game ready by September 26th.  Share your storyboard with me via Twitter or email or reach out with any questions.

The featured image is provided CC0 by Olu Eletu via Unsplash.