Author Archives: Bob

Weekly Writing 4:1, Bob Heath

For your writing post this week, develop a thorough description of the situational factors impacting your lesson plan. Exhibit 3.2 in the text provides a checklist of initial considerations. If you’re developing for K-12, speak to the developmental stage of your students. If you’re developing educational content for adults, estimate the level of prior experience and describe how that will affect your lesson plan. Highlight the situational characteristics that you believe will make course development most challenging.

Review the posts of your classmates and provide feedback on the situational factors they’ve listed for their target populations.

Colby College is an elite liberal arts residential college.   As such many of our students come from well to do families many from the Boston area.   Many have attended private high schools, preparatory schools.   Indeed, upon graduation many return to this home city.   However, not all students have this background.   Like all colleges, Colby attempts to create diversity in its student body.   Some international students are recruited through the International high school program.   Some international students are from China on a can pay basis — that is they require no financial aid.   Colby works closely with the POSSE foundation program and recruits ethnically diverse young people from inner cities, New York, Chicago ,for examples ,in this way.   A few of Colby’s students are recruited from Maine–though not as many as in the past.

The upshot is that few of our job applicants have prior work experience of any significant sort.   This along with generational differences between Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials and we have some significant hurdles to manage regarding work place expectations.   Very few of our students imagine themselves in an entry-level position.

The work at our Service desk has changed over time.   However, at a basic level it is transactional work, checking library materials in and out, keeping printer and photocopiers operational and filled with paper, providing directional services for both the building and the campus.   Over time our business model has shifted with part-time student employees increasingly important in supporting our front line service.   This has include extended hours in the evening and weekend.   It has also included providing basic research assistance.       In truth, there is a lot of content knowledge and a lot of process knowledge that our service desk employees need.   Historically, we created a “career path’ for our student employees.   We defined three different levels of work: level one work was basic retrieval or shelving functions in handling library materials, we distinguished it as inward facing and having impact on internal library functions.   Our second level involved this level and additionally was outward facing in that it serviced customers or contacts external to the library: on campus, students and faculty, or off campus, other libraries or external vendors.   Our third level involved supervisory or research skills that affected library employees at various levels in the organization.   We promoted employees based on competence, fit, and possibly based on age/experience.   Therefore, many first year student employees worked as shelvers returning borrowed materials to the stacks and shelving them correctly.   Conversely, they worked for our interlibrary loan department retrieving materials from the stacks and packing them for shipping.   Our Service desks were second year students who had worked for a year in the previous capacity and had a sense of basic library skills and work.   We augmented their training with training in communication skills and problem solving and they provided first contact resolution services.   Most Colby students spend their junior year, a semester at least frequently the full year abroad.   Therefore, our third tier employees are often seniors; we draw our student supervisor and research assistant positions from this applicant pool.

Because we are an educational institution, we often imagine that performance issues are a matter of training.   If only we could get our training right then our performances would be perfected.   However, this is an incomplete truth and an error sometimes encountered in supervisors thinking about employee performance.   A performance deficiency might result from incomplete knowledge, a skill deficiency, or a managerial deficiency: motivational problem, organizational problem, equipment problem, or a policy problem (here I am drawing heavily from Robert Mager’s analysis of performance problems).

Turning my attention to another aspect of managing a service desk, that is key performance indicators.   This something we have not examined in the past, at least, with any consistency or thoroughness.    Jeff Rumburg and Eric Zbikowsky in their white paper “The Seven Most Important Performance Indicators for the Service Desk’ identify: cost, quality, productivity, agent, service level and call handling as their priorities.


All of this boils down to a single element of quality, which is first contact resolution rate, as the single most important service desk metric to focus on for improvement.

The Colby College Libraries consists of three on campus facilities, Miller library the main library whose collection and services focuses on humanities and social sciences, Bixler Art and Music library whose collection and services focus on art, music and performing arts, our Science library whose collection and services focus on science, math and their related interdisciplinary studies.   Our final facility is an on campus storage facility that provides for more than forty years of collection growth.  Miller library has just under gone a two-year renovation, alas a highly controversial renovation.   Three years ago, we engaged a consultant and entered into a process of organizational re-design, two years prior to that, we engaged a consultant and underwent a strategic planning process both of these processes were successful (based on a variety of measures) and have moved the organization forward.   However, the controversy surrounding our physical renovation has seriously damaged our reputation with all college constituents, students, faculty, administration, and alumina.

As our student, employees working at our service desk are our primary source of first contact resolution, whether for customer service, building or campus directional assistance, technology assistance, or primary research assistance we are acutely aware of their performance and our need to for excellence in their performance.




Just some Maine fall colors, since we are sharing.

Article Review #5, Bob Heath

Andrew See & Travis Stephen Teetor (2014) Effective e-Training: Using a Course  Management System and e-Learning Tools to Train Library Employees, Journal of Access Services,  11:2, 66-90, DOI: 10.1080/15367967.2014.896217,

Therefore, it seems I have found the perfect article for my purposes.

Online instruction and e-Learning tools are increasingly being used in the academic setting for faculty to deliver course content; however, most libraries have yet to apply the advantages offered by these tools to employee training. This case study from the University of Arizona Libraries (UAL) presents the challenges of sustaining traditional training approaches and the steps to develop an online training program, including identifying specific competencies needed to create effective online training, an approach to prioritizing where to start your program, and requirements for training platform selection. (See and Teetor 2014)

I suspect that most academic libraries struggle with similar versions of this problem, limited permanent staff, multiple locations, extensive hours of operation, and many part-time student employees with frequent turnover, and schedules that do not overlap with supervisors.   The work consists of customer service, technology support, providing directions, basic research assistance, and building security.

Perhaps  many instances of independent invention have occurred in academic libraries to address these issues.     Our solutions at Colby College Libraries include a variety of tactics.   We meet face-to-face at the start of each semester at each location as a staff.   New employees receive focused instruction from a permanent staff supervisor during their first shift.   Librarians likewise meet with as many student employees as possible and provide an hour of instruction on answering research questions — followed up by individual make up sessions to catch the rest.   We have a selective interview process for student supervisors and train them more extensively.   They assist with both training and administrative tasks in managing their respective staffs.   We created a peer mentor program where new employees are partnered with returning employees and so gain the benefit of their experience.   We also created a website to supplant our old training manual. We have enriched that sight with instructional videos created by student employees. We refer to that site when we answer employee questions to impress upon them that many answers are available to them through that resource.   Finally, we meet for lunch once a semester all service desk employees from all locations and while the focus is fun, we sneak some training or review into these sessions as well.  We like the authors of the article also systematically evaluate the employees’ job knowledge and retrain as necessary.  This yields good, but not great results and I am feeling increasing pressure to achieve great outcomes.

The authors first described a new position, a specific employee to create their online instruction.   They then describe the selection process for LMS.   They then describe the content areas of the LMS they use: “Checklist, Content, Quizzes, Dropbox, Grades, Classlist, Discussions, and Syllabus.’   Because these categories are facets of the particular LMS, I will not spend a lot of time summarizing the details of their curriculum.   However, their discussion of creating online content does bear some study.   They used the Desire2Learn LMS  system, but for content creation, they describe three tools: Adobe Presenter, Articulate Storyline, and Panopto.

They evaluated the results of the new training on cost savings, test results, and observation of task performance.

  • “In terms of cost savings, online training will likely result in cutting F2F time in half instead of eliminating it completely.’
  • “Similarly, UAL employees who have used the online training have been just as successful in passing tests as their counterparts who received predominantly F2F instruction.’
  • “While there has not been an in-depth comparison of performance when trained F2F versus online, employees have proven just as capable and have completed this stage of training just as quickly, regardless of how they were trained.’

Again, these conclusions are conservative as with most academic writing.   However, to my mind as an Assistant Director whose business is the same business.   I think there is plenty to go on here.   I have shared this article with my permanent staff and my student supervisors.   We will be discussing it 10/10/2014 at our supervisors meeting.

The authors’ finally end with this conclusion: “While we have received feedback from trainees about their desire to have a greater degree of F2F interaction, overall the online program has proven to save time while achieving the same degree of effectiveness in preparing employees to work at service sites. We plan to address this need by adopting a flipped classroom approach to supplement online learning with F2F activities and workshops.”

Over the last 5-6 years, we, at my work, have approached and shied away from using the LMS system for these purposes.   I decided on my way into work this morning that I was done with the indecision.   I meet with our Instructional Designer today to review the objections that have been raised in the past.   To see if these objections  still had any bearing on the matter — she convinced me that none are meaningful any longer.   In the morning, I will schedule a training meeting, next week, for my staff with this person.   Moreover, we will move aggressively into online learning in support of improved employee performance.   Another important conversation was had today with a new colleague an Assistant Director in an adjacent department.   We agreed to revisit a past initiative to create a career path for student employees in our library.   Several years ago, we did this hard work and had good success with it.   Alas, we lost track of it in our reorganization.   I think these two projects go hand in hand.

There that was the easy part.

Article Review #4, Bob Heath

Macdonald, J., & Poniatowska, B. (2011). Designing the professional development of staff for teaching online: an OU (UK) case study.  Distance Education,  32(1), 119-134. doi:10.1080/01587919.2011.565481

This article caught my attention because it is at the crossroads of several personal interests in thinking about online pedagogy: the workplace, blended learning, near synchronous feedback, and cool and geeky new tools.   The authors review a module taught through the UK’s Online University.   This module is aimed at online teachers, but teachers in the workplace though in this case the workplace was the OU.

Drawing on this experience, we therefore set out to design a new online professional development module at the OU (UK), which would act as a guide and introduction to new ways of working with online tools for all staff throughout the university. It was important that this module should be designed in a way that it could be easily updated with changing technologies. We were aware of the need to sustain engagement by using measures such as an activity checklist and certification system, and to consider ways of encouraging peer learning through an online community. Finally, we wished to design this module using a practice-based approach, starting with the job. (Macdonald and Poniatowska 2011)

The authors spend several pages on developing a theoretical structure that informed their case study which we will happily gloss over. Instead, their approach was to focus on the common intentions of teaching and supporting learners.   Their focus shifted then to strategies and finally to tools; an eminently practical approach, I think.   This approach allowed them to minimize the need to regular revision of the course – instead new tools could be classed by strategies and accommodated.

VLE Choices

Learners selected either a self-study route or a cohort program.   It sounds like the latter was easier to manage since interactive projects were precluded in the self-study route.

Use of the Elluminate tool was experimental and new so the authors recruited tutors competent with the tool to enrich that experience.   Their experiences with this approach have encouraged them to explore online tutoring.   The authors review briefly some of the quantitative and qualitative data they collected on participants experience with the curriculum.   They discuss the outcomes of the course broadly and each of the tracks, cohort and self-study, their conclusions, as with most scholarly projects, are constrained and suggest additional directions for subsequent research.

I particularly like their final observation: “In other words, what the learner actually learns cannot be predicted in advance.’   I think this is brilliant.   It shows the aleatory quality of learning.   We throw a variety of learners and supporting props together and then watch intently to see what is learned.   There is no accounting for motivation, curiosity and discovery.   A gifted learner can skew a set of course outcomes significantly from those imagined by the teacher.   Combine that with a cohort and the outcomes can be profoundly variable.

I liked this inquiry very much.   It was not exactly what I was looking for in my thinking about teaching young adults about work at a service desk, but it is closer than many of the articles we have reviewed thus far.   I find it rewarding that this article is about teaching teachers.   A number of interesting facets to that, one seeing that full-time teachers self-selected for cohort study whereas part-time preferred individual study.   Intriguing also to see teachers receive tutoring.   In addition, to see them working to discover an on-line voice, on-line techniques for tutors, is rewarding.   I suspect like teaching labs, tutoring on-line has its challenges.   I also suspect that the learners themselves provide many clues on how to do it well.   I found it valuable that this course showed the collaboration between instructors and instructional designers.   I liked as well that it introduced the collaboration between tutors and the aforementioned.   I like that it is an iterative process to develop the course.    I also like and simultaneously struggle with it not being a graded course. “Finally, to support engagement, participants are encouraged to complete a choice of activities using an activity checklist that once completed generates an automated completion certificate.’   This is something I am struggling with as I consider the final assignment for the course.   I am obviously suspicious of “schooling’ and of “grades’ and so writing rubrics is a conflicted task for me.   I understand their value in assessment and in connecting outcomes and course work.   However, there is part of me that wants to honor the discovery that is unpredictable in throwing learners and tools together in an aleatory space.   There is the part of me that is a boss.    I am driven by finite resources and expected to show return on investment.    I am appreciative of focused and measurable outcomes as evidence of learning.   I also understand that excellence in service that creates customer enthusiasm is a result of motivation, curiosity and discovery.   I suspect that I will need both/and in my assessment of learners in order to accomplish rote skills and interpretive skills.


Weekly Writing #4, Bob Heath

What theoretical principles support the use of game mechanics in learning? Consider the list you created of ways in which the world has changed, and then reflect on the goals of Partnership for 21st Century Skills. In your writing this week, discuss the ways in which learning must change in the 21st Century and the ways in which it must continue to build upon solid theory and models. Elaborate on ways in which Khan Academy or Peer Instruction are either accomplishing those goals or falling short.

I guess I am disappointed.   If schools themselves are part of our trouble with learning; then how is more of the same going to be an improvement?   Since leadership is a matter close to my heart, I selected that topic as an entry point into the case studies of exemplar schools on the P21 website.   I first clicked through the slides on their Tumblr.   Alas, I really did not see a difference in those images from my own recollections of K-12– more than 30 years ago.   Then I listened to the podcast and was meet by a jargon dump from professional educators.   I listened through to the point where they allowed a student to talk and again I was just disappointed — just more of the same dressed up and promoted on the internet.   I then clicked through to their “about us’ section for parents and community.   There were pretty summaries of curricular high points, assertions without evidence, but most disturbing, there was nothing about community building.   Rather education was still just a commodity produced by experts that we are expected to consume.   Although the home page for P21 has a world map, all of the schools they hold up as exemplars are from the US.   The little rainbow map of the program is crisp and clear and boring.   It is fundamentally self-referential within the US education industry.
I want to run far away from this.   Instead, what if we build a new model based on what young people are really doing?

At 1:41 John Seely Brown describes his neighbor, a 20 something surfer, a world class surfer. He and his friends have refined a technique for speed learning but more for invention of new techniques. I love the point that JSB makes about a 48-hour turnaround time on new tricks — fascinating. I of course love the risk of failure as well.

To my mind, we have several tools or attributes to inventory here:

  • Peer group of like-minded and skilled persons
    • Mental toughness
    • Physical toughness
  • A shared curiosity for a topic embedded in the real world
  • The equipment to engage in the activity
  • Equipment to record the engagement and hence to study and criticize the engagement
  • the internet connects a global community of peer groups hence peer review

Returning to the classroom, we see:

At 11:17 Eric Mazur says: “You don’t learn by listening you learn by doing.’   Moreover, a few seconds later he describes the heart of the flipped classroom the transfer of content occurs before and outside the classroom the sense making occurs inside the classroom and a classroom where peers help each other make sense.   At 8:35 he give the clue to why this works so well — a person with a fresh understanding also clearly understands the confusion and can help their peers to avoid the confusion.   By contrast, for the “expert’ that confusion is long gone and so is their human connection with not knowledge but rather ignorance.

These two examples seem most closely aligned with the Constructivist theories of learning.

Constructivists see learners as active rather than passive. Knowledge is not received from the outside or from someone else; rather, the individual learner interprets and processes what is received through the senses to create knowledge. The learner is the centre of the learning, with the instructor playing an advising and facilitating role. Learners should be allowed to construct knowledge rather than being given knowledge through instruction (Duffy & Cunningham, 1996). The construction of knowledge includes both physical and intellectual learning activities (Phillips, 2005). A major emphasis of constructivists is situated learning, which sees learning as contextual (Hung, Looi, & Koh, 2004). Learning activities that allow learners to contextualize the information should be used in online instruction. If the information has to be applied in many contexts, then learning strategies that promote multi-contextual learning should be used to make sure that learners can indeed apply the information broadly. Learning is moving away from one-way instruction to construction and discovery of knowledge (Tapscott, 1998) (Ally 2008).

We quite clearly hear Mazur speak of the change in his role in the classroom he uses the term “coach.’   However, who has that role in the example of the surfer’s peer group?   I would theorize that it is a shared role.   No single person has exclusive claim to those responsibilities in the group.   Both examples show learners constructing knowledge one physical the other intellectual.   Indeed we see Mazur’s disruptive moment being the realization that his teaching was context specific, classroom and textbooks, rather than applicable in real life.   As he flipped his classroom, he could shift his focus to multi-contextual learning.   The JSB example is clearly multi-contextual as the “trick’ is learned around the globe within 48 hours — remember, every beach and break is unique.     This 48-hour turnaround is interesting to postulate as having a link to connectionism through the butterfly flap of chaos theory. I particularly like the link between constructionist theories of learning the principle of decision-making in connectionist theories.   “Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision’ (Siemens 2005).   This skill set of decision-making is I think more accurately taught and learned through surfing then through lecture hall physics — though both refer to matter and energy in motion.

Ally, M. (2008).  Foundations of educational theory for online learning. In  Anderson, T., & Elloumi, F. (Eds.).  The theory and practice of online learning  (2nd ed.)  (pp. 15—44). Athabasca, AB, Canada: Athabasca University.

Siemens, G. (2005).  Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age.  International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning 2(1).

Article Review #3, Bob Heath

Reeder, Kenneth; Macfadyen, Leah P.; Chase, Mackie; Roche, Jörg, (2004 June) Falling Through the Cultural Gaps? Intercultural communication challenges in cyberspace. Proceedings, Cultural Attitudes to technology and Communication, Karlstad, Sweden.

Working backwards from their conclusions we first learn about a concern for cultural sensitivity from all participants.   Something as simple as how participants introduce themselves (genealogy vs. resume) can indicate cultural difference.   The authors point out that other gaps in communication can be highlighted by studies in second language acquisition, their point being that communication standards should be made explicit.   “Rather, these participants may have experienced confusion or doubts as to whether basic interpersonal communication, academic language, or perhaps something in between (another site of negotiation?) was expected in the online situation’ (Reeder 2004).   They finally theorized about a hybrid form of communication that seems to be developing online: “For instance, Dudfield (1999) agrees that students are increasingly engaging in what she calls ‘hybrid forms of literate behaviour.’ Gibbs (2000) has extended this to suggest that new forms of communication are actually constructing ‘new forms of thinking, perceiving and recording.’…   We might speculate however that our corpus and others like it represent a new genre, neither spoken nor written, yet drawing upon conventions of both. In any case, distance educators need to be cognizant of the relative “fit’ between their participants’ origins in oral or literate cultures and the distinct genre requirements of online communication in e-learning’(Reeder 2004).

To my mind these are fairly constrained conclusions.   The idea that course participants should be culturally sensitive and that instructors do better to make expectations explicit hardly seems to move us along — sure they bare repeating but they do not constitute something unique to online instruction.   However, their final observation regarding a distinctive tone or voice in online communication is interesting — “hybrid forms of literate behavior.’   I think there are many fruitful questions that burble around that conclusion.   So, based on the conclusions this conference paper seems at least understated.

Looking elsewhere for highlights, we find a section header “3.1. THE INTERNET HAS A CULTURE’ and here the authors do some interesting work:

Like all technologies, the Internet was and is socially produced — and all social productions are informed by the cultural values of their producers (Castells, 2001). The creators of the Internet were predominantly Anglo-American engineers and scientists “seeking quick and open access to others like themselves’ (Anderson, 1995. p. 13). Their ethnic and professional cultures value aggressive/competitive individualistic behaviours. In addition, these cultures value communications characterized by speed, reach, openness, quick response, questions/debate and informality. Schein (1992) attributes similar values to the information technology community in general.

We observed that these communicative cultural values are embedded in the design of WebCT and similar Internet-based communications platforms. Layered over this foundational but ‘invisible’ culture of the Internet, the culture of the online modular courses under study here is similarly the product of its creators: predominantly university-educated Canadians, who are Western, English-speaking and female.  (Reeder 2004)

Here is something we can get our teeth into and chew on.   Thinking back to Owen’s first assignment we watched a thought leader speculating on “learning networks’ as a new and important phenomenon.   My take away was an insight that we do not need to limit ourselves, even in formal education, to LMS.   So are there other social media sites that resonate with different cultural values?   One way to answer this is to put on our cultural diversity glasses and look for these ourselves another approach is to ask members of populations we would like to reach — where they congregate online?   This helps us identify new or new to us tools for online communication.   Another is to imagine our course design in a different way.   What if we ask participants to introduce themselves genealogically first; here I am thinking about connections to people and places (notice the discomfort we feel) and this is part of the value of this.   My friend John Schumacher called it “the insanity of place’ his example was to imagine approaching a stranger’s cart in the grocery store and, without explanation, taking an item out and looking at it.   Yet even just 100 years ago we (members of the dominate culture) would have been comfortable with a genealogical introduction.   Here I am remembering a highlight from the recent nonfiction book Quiet the author traces the change from persons of character to persons of personality (pg35).     Reaching back to the authors conclusions and their curiosity in a “new genre, neither written nor spoken’ I wonder if social media is likewise blurring the distinctions between genealogical introductions and resume introductions.   I can learn about others in this course by Googling them and finding their LinkedIn profiles, their Facebook pages, (Twitter, Pinterest and so on) their online brand as it were.   Their identity for me is likewise hybridized both personal and professional.   That said, a lot of online communication has happened in the time since this paper was read – plenty of time to develop and refine some new genre.   Alas, I am unsure this new voice is emerging.   Blogs seem to follow conventions of essays or journals with long expository writing.   Tweets seem to be somewhere between bumper sticker wisdom and aphorisms… though it does show a stylized kind of communication.   Forums show a wide variety of writing ability and style sometimes with posts clearly translated by Google or that ilk.   Criticism for poor writing, reasoning and argumentation are frequent and harsh.   Forums seem to be a place where cultural diversity interacts and often with little sensitivity or with reference to “online norms.’   I wonder more about silent participation.   People who read and reflect on what they encounter but do not themselves add to the “conversation.’   On one hand, I have shifted from LMS to the whole of the internet.   Therefore, my sample is larger, but not systematic as I am reflecting on my observations of online communication — not conclusive but sufficient for me to be suspicious.

In the end this paper disappoints a little; the authors seem most concerned with grinding their axe with Canadian dominant culture.

Cain, Susan. (2012)  Quiet :the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking  New York : Broadway Books

Weekly Reading #3, Bob Heath

In my article review this week I ended up at a place calling for a blended approach to learning. In my comment celebrating augmented reality I ended up at a place calling for blended learning. Accordingly, I gravitated to the “Blended Compared With Pure Online Learning’ section in:

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development,  Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online learning: a meta-analysis and review of online learning studies, Washington, D.C., 2010.

Sadly, and I will save you many words: “no significant differences’ were found. That is, the research conducted thus far is inconclusive when comparing blended learning to purely online learning.     Therefore, I suggest we trust our guts and go with what we think is sexy and cool in a geeky sort of way.

My two reasons for going to blended presentation for some types of instruction: first, some knowledge, some interactions are best face-to-face, second, as in the EcoMobile videos going to the pond, as a group is incredibly important and not possible in an exclusively online format.     But wait these are claims not reasons and so I need to make arguments and provide evidence.

Returning to the Passing On video I shared in my second article review: one of our narrators describes appropriate ways to approach elders seeking instruction either for her students or for herself. Alas, I cannot interrogate her. The video is a gem but it is one-way transmission. If she were online, I could interrogate her, certainly, but in text I cannot capture inflection of tone, timing, and so on, nor can I capture facial expression. Likewise, in text I cannot capture the spiral logic implicit in instruction given by elders. Certainly, FaceTime gets us closer and closer, but it struggles with buffering and is limited to the quality of camera attached to the device. This harkens back to my friend John Schumacher’s criticism of e-mail and phone calls as representations of altogether different events — face-to-face co-making of inquiry. If we were 40,000 years old in online technology, I would have to consider that our physical evolution might have adapted to information/communication technology. Nevertheless, most of these changes have happened in the past 20 years, we are for the most part the same human beings who hunted mastodons with stone tipped lances. Those human beings learned from each other face-to-face. So, let us imagine that exclusive online learning is a human-made environment rather like the inside of the Apollo space capsules, sufficient but barely. Certainly amazing and cool but when we look back on our LMS systems in 20 years they will seem as harsh and spare as the interiors of the space ships we flew to the moon. Moreover as persons facilitating learning, we have additional obligations not just content. We have obligations to civil society, to appropriate public discourse, to fostering leaders. While some of this work can be done online not all of it can be. I think this is so because these are not just about the content knowledge but about making eye contact, about nodding, or gesturing, they are about situating the knowledge in a cultural moment — why it is that TedTalks are taped in front of an audience perhaps. I have already touched on some reasons for my second claim implicitly — learning is not just about making individuals it is about making cultures, creating psycho-social facilities and ensuring survival of the individual and the group — easy to forget in post-industrial society.

Therefore, I will hazard a claim that classes that toggle between content and meta-cognition would be better in a blended environment. I suggest leadership as one example, perhaps cycles of seasonal subsistence might be another topic that would be better served in a blended class. Second, I theorize that classes aimed at younger learners K-12, perhaps even 13, are better blended. I suggest blended in part because of the force multiplier, that various online tools offer, EcoMobile/EcoMuve as an example, flipped instruction as another. The next question is how do we formulate the research question to show results more conclusive then we see in the required reading. I am a philosopher not a social scientist so forgive me the speculation: I suspect one would have to create three courses in three formats with comparable outcomes and teach them adjacently for an extended time. Probably possible at a larger University that offers classroom, purely online, and blended presentation. However, while waiting on those results what kind of decision model can we create for the rest of us in the mean time? I suspect that like cell phones, laptops, Google documents, Twitter, we have to remember classroom, online, and blended are tools in our toolkit and in our professional roles part of our excellence is our facility and artistry in using the right tools at the right time — there is an element of trusting our guts.

Article 2 Review, Bob Heath

Several co-learners in this course have raised the matter of cultural diversity in online learning “environments’ — particularly in Alaska. I am intrigued with this issue and so it inspired me to some greater investigation. This review will focus on a single article:

Xiaojing Liu, S. L., Seung-hee Lee, Magjuka, Richard J. (October, 2010). Cultural Differences in Online Learning: International Student Perceptions. . Journal of Educational Technology & Society., Vol. 13 (Issue 3), p177-188.

but this is only a starting point.

The authors examine seven themes that arose out of their research: Assessment, Instruction/Interaction, Asynchronous/Synchronous Communication, Collaboration, Case Learning, Academic Conduct, and Language. Students were from the U.S., China, India, and Russia. Rather, than extensive review of the article itself, the methods and so on, I would like to focus on the findings since this is practical and immediately useful. The authors offer a table that quickly summarizes these:

seven themes

One of the themes that came out of last semester’s ED 631 — Culture , Curriculum and Community class was “both-and’ that is Native Alaskan youth needed to be able to navigate both Western ways of education and Native cultural practices. In the recommendations for assessment practices we see “Multiple assessment strategies: Structured and flexible assignment schedule’ this strikes me as a way to accomplish the Alaskan goal for “both-and’ assuming we can actually strike a balance between process-oriented vs. exam-oriented assessment for example. Turning to instruction/interaction we are encouraged to “Incorporate features that accommodate different cultural pedagogy.’ And to my mind this is the rub of exclusive online instruction, however, it might also be a place for young learners to gain esteem in the eyes of elders. As an example, working with spruce roots, I can imagine a young learner setting up their iPhone and recording a video of their work with the roots, harvesting, preparing, and finally basket making. They then use video editing software to polish their product and submit it asynchronously through the LMS, for peers and elders to watch and comment on. The Dragonfly Project out of Haines has shown how this has opened doors between youth and elders where the roles reversed and the youth taught elders computer use. It is a small stretch to imagine another youth creating a video comment refining a technique and that inspiring an elder to seek out a youth to help them add a video comment with additional improvement, or at least the Instructional Technologist at the hosting institution.

Turning to balanced use of asynchronous/synchronous communication I am forced to wonder about blended courses as perhaps most appropriate for cultural content.   As I think about online instruction and Alaskan communities and schools, the role of elders is the most perplexing. This video, Passing On worth watching in entirety but particularly at minute 7:31 poses a question that has stumped me, certainly both when I first encountered it in the 1980s as a student at Sheldon Jackson College and again this past spring — why can’t a learner simply ask for what they need? “Yo, I’m a dufus. I forgot the words to the jump rope song can ya drop me a clue?’ I suspect that as a white guy from away I may never understand the answer I hear. Perhaps the best I can achieve is sensitivity to my ignorance. However, there is something going on here that is subtle and culturally unique — I am not at all certain that it can be captured in online learning. I suspect then that online instruction must necessarily be in conjunction with face-to-face interaction — particularly in Native Alaska and particularly when focused on cultural preservation.

Addressing the fourth and fifth themes together, collaboration and case learning, I am reminded of a leadership training I attended for managers in libraries and IT in higher education this summer. The national statistics for CIOs show 97% are white males. We were fortunate to have a woman and two African American men in the room as instructors all at that level in their organizations. One of the most telling comments made by one of them was “if you want to recruit for diversity then you need to create your interview committees so that when I walk into the room I see people like me.’ I think this is at the heart of these themes. If I as a learner cannot find myself in the course content, I can barely begin to connect or construct with the material. In thinking about Alaska Natives, we often focus on the diversity, the differences, the factors of cultural uniqueness. I suspect that in areas of politics, law, economics, and health care, tribal groups across the nation share a great deal of similarity in the problems they seek to correct. This article offers a place both for cultural diversity and shared issues through case studies in online instruction. The student interviews conducted by the authors highlight how the cultural diversity enriched their thinking about both the local and global issues.

Owen, in a comment on this blog, pointed out that in teaching remedial math he felt he had to write a guide for the guide. For different reasons I suspect that is also the case in a culturally diverse online course. The authors say: “Several international students have expressed frustration at being severely punished for their inappropriate citation of others’ work according to the academic rules of the U.S. universities. They felt that the instructors lacked an understanding of the cultural differences in regard to educational practices’ (Xiaojing Liu, October, 2010). So here we see the need for both cultural sensitivity and emotional intelligence and as instructor learns from their mistakes, hopefully that increasingly involves front loading the instruction — offering guidelines for decoding educational practices rather than reactive punishment for not even understanding that a coded message was in use.

Finally, dealing with language differences, or in the case of Alaska Natives building occasions for language practice into the curriculum — the project is one of preserving languages. This is, I think, the real value of online instruction. We have an opportunity to combine the talents of content experts and instructional designers in ways that are far more rich and productive then the “solitary sage on the stage.’   I joke that English is my only language and for a non-native speaker I do ok. Therefore, in this I would need the help of a native speaker and probably an instructional designer to build language into any courses I wanted to create. However, the value is in both preserving the language and showing respect to the cultural diversity in the class. Course creation is necessarily an iterative and collaborative project.


The LMS as an aspect of the post-modern turn

Use one of the following questions as your writing prompt for this week. Compose a thoughtful and complete opinion piece to post.

  1. Recall a learning experience that you found personally effective and identify the underlying methodology. Describe ways in which behaviorist, cognitivist, or constructivist techniques were employed.

My “moment’ was in a Metaphysics course taught by John A. Schumacher… in 1989. John required students in his classes to keep a notebook. Each week’s entry consisted of lecture notes, (proof you were awake and engaged), and a short essay — 2000 words, more formal engagement with some aspect of the week’s work. John would collect the journal at regular turns in the semester, read and comment in them. This was before we knew about the internet and certainly before online pedagogy. However, John was grappling with fruitful concepts. He was an anarchist and as such did what he could to disrupt our roles, his as teacher, and ours as students. I remember him getting a student talking about his belief in Wikka, handing the kid the chalk, walking him to the front of the class, and then sitting down in a student desk. He did all that he could to disrupt the architecture and structure of the classroom and of school. The journal was one of his strategies to “keep the conversation going’ to extend it out of the classroom and into our real lives. I loved it.

Fast forward to six or so years ago I had the great fortune of taking an online course from a professor, Thomas Easton, who likewise valued “keeping the conversation going.’  I was impressed by the power of learning management systems to do that — assuming the teacher understood and valued it. The LMS could do more, to facilitate conversations between students, indeed to forefront what had been silenced by many teachers or back channeled by room arrangement or architecture (think lecture hall). I have taken several online courses over the years, some terrible. The best ones utilized various tools to encourage interactions some synchronous some asynchronous. One trick Tom used was to schedule a weekly chat room. Tom prepped students for the event with a couple questions that tied the readings together or antagonized them. Then he facilitated the conversation prodding quiet folks, or dropping links to related sources, giving us time to read them, come back, and comment. Initially, I felt overwhelmed by the technology, but quickly figured out how to write aphorisms rather than paragraphs. However, that was still very similar to a classroom meeting, regular time and same people and so on.

Additionally, Tom found ways to use forums to “keep the conversation going’ over the next week. Owen in this class is using many of those same tricks. These weekly readings might be analogous to John’s notes in the journal; the article reviews are more formal and so like the weekly essays. The difference is that rather than just the professor’s comments, my co-learners are commenting on my work too. Mostly this is valuable, sometimes just rubbish, but, if I think about all the teachers comments I have read over the years I can categorize them that way also (and I have been in both roles as well and made my share of rubbish comments, too).

We read Skinner in that Metaphysics course and I recall John’s criticism of Skinner and of behaviorist theories of learning. Therefore, in his class there was little room for behaviorist approaches to learning.   John was impacted by the post-modern turn and so he was certainly informed by constructivist notions of learning.

Learning should be an active process…. Learners should construct their own knowledge, rather than accepting that given by the instructor…. Collaborative and cooperative learning should be encouraged to facilitate constructivist learning…. Learners should be given control of the learning process…. Learners should be given time and the opportunity to reflect…. Learning should be made meaningful…. Learning should be interactive to promote higher-level learning and social presence, and to help develop personal meaning.(

I think John’s twist on this theory would be a strong emphasis upon social construction of knowledge. He would have been simultaneously suspicious of LMS systems and intrigued by them. I recall him criticizing phone and e-mail as “representation of altogether different events.’ He always circled back to human interaction, to conversation as profoundly important to human being. I suspect he would be critical of:

Siemens, G. (2005).  Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age.  International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning 2(1).

Critical because of the emphasis, perhaps celebration, of   mediated or representational interaction at the expense of face-to-face co-making of meaning. However, he would have liked this list of questions Siemens raises:

Some questions to explore in relation to learning theories and the impact of technology and new sciences (chaos and networks) on learning:

  • How are learning theories impacted when knowledge is no longer acquired in the linear manner?
  • What adjustments need to made with learning theories when technology performs many of the cognitive operations previously performed by learners (information storage and retrieval).
  • How can we continue to stay current in a rapidly evolving information ecology?
  • How do learning theories address moments where performance is needed in the absence of complete understanding?
  • What is the impact of networks and complexity theories on learning?
  • What is the impact of chaos as a complex pattern recognition process on learning?
  • With increased recognition of interconnections in differing fields of knowledge, how are systems and ecology theories perceived in light of learning tasks?

For myself I like these questions as well perhaps more than the conclusions Siemens arrives at. I particularly resonate with his question about “performance in absence of complete understanding’ and his last question about the role and importance of “systems and ecological theory’ in speculating on learning — both of these questions are recurrent in my self reflection on my role as a leader in a library.

Article Review 1, Bob Heath

Abrahmov, S. L., & Ronen, M. (2008). Double blending: online theory with on-campus practice in photography instruction. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 45(1), 3-14. doi: 10.1080/14703290701757385

The authors through using online presentation to augment their classroom presentation were able to add learning objectives that previously were too much for the classroom (Abrahmov & Ronen, 2008). These additions were aimed at the goal teaching basic photography and visual literacy: “Our major challenge was to promote the awareness of the connotative level of meaning, and its relation to the factual aspects, in order to foster the understanding and creation of photographs that express additional levels of meanings’ (Abrahmov & Ronen, 2008). The authors describe six online exercises that they created to facilitate students learning visual literacy. This section of the paper is extensive and detailed. The authors also describe their evaluation of the augmented class.

This evaluation study was based on the analysis of the data extracted from the following sources:

  • Students’ online activity and their performance in the theoretical tasks (content analysis).
  • Students’performance in the practical final project.
  • The peer evaluation records of the final project (content analysis).
  • Students’ reflections as expressed in a questionnaire administered at the end of the course.
  • Interviews with a sample of students from each class.(Abrahmov & Ronen, 2008)

The content analysis focused on the student’s use of six professional terms. The analysis showed the adoption and use of these terms over the course. The peer evaluation was likewise subject to content analysis. Here the authors were looking for students to seek and identify a second level of connotative meaning in the images submitted for peer review. Sixty percent of the students did this. “All students reported that the study of theoretical aspects of ‘reading photographs’ had contributed to the development of their practical skills, while most (70%) stated that it had a significant impact on the photographs they have produced’(Abrahmov & Ronen, 2008).     The authors seem pleased with their results and even recommend that this model may have relevance for other “similar instructional challenges.’

I selected this article for review precisely because it combined the technical skills of making something and the theoretical skills of interpretation and appreciation of the object. I suppose this course has elements of a flipped class. However, even that is stood on its head because the online instruction is about peer interaction and about keeping the conversation going outside of the classroom… extending the learning outward into real life. I likewise chose the article because it was about more learning; more content added to the course, rather than more courses added to the curriculum or worse how a course could be dumbed-down because “Young people these days…’. I selected it as well because of the higher-level learning accomplished in the tension between the how and why of the inquiry.

I will now examine more closely two of the six assignments as the authors identified them as particularly effective. The second assignment was conceptually central and pivotal and students themselves acknowledged this. In the first, the notion of “focal point’ was developed and explored in this way:

  • Implementation format: open submission as a file attached to a message in a designated discussion group board.
  • Scaffolding: explanation and examples of the concept of ‘focal points’ was hyperlinked to the task page, as well as the opportunity to view peer examples.

This implementation is deceptively simple and unfortunately that is really all the authors give us. We are left to speculate on the conversations that ensued between instructors and students and between students. We have to imagine that the instructors have a particular knack for explaining the concepts but they do not give away their trade secrets here. The students identified this concept as the most revelatory and the most transferable piece of theoretical knowledge learned in the course. I really wish the authors had spent more time exploring and explaining this success.

The final project was the submission of a series of four to six printed photographs — thematically related. The subject was left open to the students but the goal of the project “to create photographs with a developed second level of meaning’ was assigned. Each student was expected to submit two written evaluation on peers’ work. This text, as already mentioned, underwent content analysis by the authors focused on use of terms and ability to identify and relate the two levels of meaning.

The article itself is not overwrought with theorizing or professional jargon dumping and I like that. The authors use “writing’ and “reading’ as tropes, as theoretical categories for the two sets of tasks they assign students. Writing speaks to the physical, technical skills of making pictures with cameras. Reading speaks to the interpretive and aesthetic notions that the instructors add to the class, that speak to achieving a “second level of meaning.’ This is a simple provisional theory to get the practice up on its feet and see if it grew legs.

I struggled a bit with the course evaluation because it smacked of academic rigor rather than sustainable self-reflection. Content analysis is a labor-intensive research technique, certainly for the purposes of writing an article and for scholarly rigor it was important for getting published. However, I suspect the authors returned to simpler and more sustainable course evaluation tools for subsequent classes. In truth, I would have preferred to read about those techniques — alas, their article probably would not have been successfully peer reviewed in that case.

I do recommend this article to my classmates particularly if they are dealing with presenting technical skill. However, I wonder if there is a way to make an abstract and theoretical subject more tangible by pairing it with a practical one. I recall once buying a book on framing roofs. The author did an admirable job of connecting geometry and trigonometry to the practical problem of building roofs. I would have learned the concepts in high school if the math had been taught in application rather than just rote.