SoTL Commons 2014 in Savannah: ‘Teaching Without Learning Is Just Talking’

By Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education

The 7th SoTL commons conference at Savannah, Georgia, was held from March 26-28, 2014. The annual event is organized by Georgia Southern University. SoTL commons is a small conference; the 2014 edition attracted around 180 participants. The majority of the participants came from small colleges and universities in the southern United States, though the event also had national reach with people from Wisconsin, Louisiana, and the Midwest, as well as a few international attendees from Colombia, South Africa, Sweden, Portugal and Nigeria.

My personal conference highlight was the keynote by Peter Felten, Director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning at Elon University. Peter used an amusing and powerful analogy to clarify the question that seems to be a crucial, non-negotiable ingredient of every SoTL gathering: What do we mean by Scholarship of Teaching and Learning?

Peter Felten: ‘Which mutt is the cutest?’ Can you give criteria for cuteness? How about criteria for excellence in SoTL?

Peter Felten: “Which mutt is the cutest?” Can you give criteria for cuteness? How about criteria for excellence in SoTL?

He  characterized SoTL as a mutt discipline — in contrast to the “best in show approach” of disciplinary research. Just as a show dog will be only appreciated by few experts in the breeding trade, disciplinary research often resides in the ivory tower. SoTL has the advantage of being widely accessible to a broader audience. However, it has to define its boundaries to be (accepted as) a scholarly discipline.
To this end, Peter presented five principles, which offer a heuristic framework to characterize any SoTL project:

  1. The inquiry is focused on student learning.
  2. The research is grounded in context — both scholarly discourse and local, organizational environment.
  3. The approach is methodologically sound.
  4. The project is conducted in partnership with students.
  5. The results are appropriately public.

These principles allow for common ground among SoTL inquiries, can help clarify and demystify SoTL to others and ultimately enhance the influence of SoTL. (For more details, see “Principles of Good Practice in SoTL.”)

The talk spurred a debate among the audience, in particular the absence of “teaching” as a perspective in the first principle. What if you are working with faculty to improve their teaching? Peter argued that ultimately every SoTL project aims at improving student learning and referred to Angelo and Cross (1993), who stated that “learning can — and often does occur without teaching but teaching cannot occur without learning; teaching without learning is just talking” (p.3 — see full text at ERIC).

Nancy Chick

Nancy Chick

Peter’s thoughts were taken up by Nancy Chick’s keynote address on the following day. She focused on the question “What is methodologically sound research in SoTL?” As editor of Teaching & Learning Inquiry, the new ISSOTL journal launched in spring 2013, Nancy was in a perfect position to highlight methodological aspects. What sets SoTL apart from disciplinary research is the variety of data sources scholars use to trace learning. Although SoTL projects comprise a wide range of theoretical, methodological, and empirical perspectives, it is crucial to find a good fit between research question and data sources.  Continue reading

A Glimpse at ‘Digital Life in 2025′

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

The conclusion of Pew’s Digital Life in 2025 (3/11/14) report1 is a simple one. In the next eleven years, the internet will become ubiquitous. A few tiny voices disagree, claiming governments will shut it down or balkanize it, turning it into a virtual reflection of the planet’s jigsaw geography. But the overwhelming prediction is the internet will be more of everything2 that we currently associate with it. The 61-page document is devoted to explaining the how and the implications, split between mostly optimism and some pessimism.

Click image to view the full report in PDF.

Click image to view the full 61-page report.

The ubiquity of the internet is already a reality so projecting more of the same is not surprising. Echoing words and phrases abound throughout the report: pervasive, connected, global connectivity, ubernet, and “world-spanning information fabric known as the Internet of Things.” The phrase “like electricity” is incorporated into the subtitle, and it serves as the starting point for the rest of the discussion: “Information sharing over the Internet will be so effortlessly interwoven into daily life that it will become invisible, flowing like electricity [through our lives].”

This simile lends itself to a vision of humans as altered or transformed3, as wired to participate in an “augmented reality,”4 a reality that is no longer defined by time and geographical boundaries. Perhaps the most profound implication is the irrelevance of national borders in the ubernet. This is how David Hughes puts it:

All 7-plus billion humans on this planet will sooner or later be ‘connected’ to each other and fixed destinations, via the Uber(not inter)Net. That can lead to the diminished power over people’s lives within nation-states. When every person on this planet can reach, and communicate two-way, with every other person on this planet, the power of nation-states to control every human inside its geographic boundaries may start to diminish. Being replaced — over another 50 or more years — by self-organizing, trans-border people-groups. Nations will still have military and police forces, but increasingly these will become less capable of controlling populations.

Again, this trend is already in motion. Today, the fact that websites are hit daily by people from around the world, attracted by mutual interest rather than shared nationality, is a given. No one gives it a second thought.  Continue reading

Free Higher Ed, 21st Century Learning, ELLs, Standardized Tests


Online Universities 2.0: Taking Education to the Next Level — Worldwide by Dominik Knoll in Huff Post Impact 3/12/14
The author expresses his opinion that free and accessible university education is just around the corner for anyone who wants it via the Internet. A commenter to the article says that most MOOCs are merely replicating the face-to-face classroom and not using the technology to its fullest extent.

Five Ways that 21st and 20th Century Learning Will Differ by Steven Mintz from Inside Higher Ed 3/5/14
Mintz proposes 5 ways that education is changing. He suggests it will move more toward 100% proficiency and mastery of skills and competencies; based in the science of learning; be data-driven; be personalized; and take advantage of technology in ways that truly enhance the learning experience.

Will classroom technology help English Language Learners? From Reflejos 3/16/14
With advent of Common Core and computer-based testing, schools are increasing online connectivity. Pilar Carmina Gonzalez, a researcher for the Education Development Center, a leading expert on children and technology and a former ESL teacher, says technology will open new avenues of learning for English language Learners (ELL students).

11 key questions on standardized testing for Congress to answer by Valerie Strauss from The Washington Post 3/9/14
The Network for Public Education, which includes among its member education historian Diane Ravitch, has asked congress to look into the what they see as the overuse of standardized tests.

GIS Can Transform Learning: Bracey Sutton at AACE Conference

VicSutton80By Vic Sutton

Geographic Information System (GIS) technology has the potential to transform learning, argued long-experienced teacher Bonnie Bracey Sutton at a workshop at the conference of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE), Jacksonville (FL), March 17-21, 2014.

Bonnie Bracey Sutton

Bonnie Bracey Sutton

Geography is presently a low priority in U.S. school curricula, partly because of the emphasis that the ‘No Child Left Behind’ law places on reading and math. The result is that American children’s awareness of where they live, and where their country is in the world, is at an all-time low.

Yet the ability to know where you are, and where you are going, is crucial in life. And mapping is the way that we record what we know about where we are, and where we are going.

Workshop participant Ray Rose recalled that the earliest maps in America were made by people standing on tall hills and drawing what they saw below them.


There was also discussion about map projections. Most of us know the world from Mercator’s projection, which – as one participant argued – is ‘culturally biased’. Just look, for example, at the size of the African continent on a traditional map, and then compare the size of Africa to other countries or regions.

Other map projections correct this, and provide other perspectives. But as another person commented, “the Mercator projections are what we carry around in our head.”
Bracey Sutton presented a wealth of resources that educators can use, in the classroom or in informal education, to provide children with tools to map their immediate environment, or to explore wider environments, from their community to their state, country or region.

Nowadays we tend to take GIS for granted, for example when using a GPS to guide us to a destination. But for students to understand it they still have to tackle the basics of latitude and longitude.

And there are any number of alternative map projections. See for example the Gall stereographic projection, which long predated the better-known Peters projection.

But the conclusion is that depicting the earth on a flat surface almost inevitably leads to distortions. GIS can help students to understand how they arise, and – sometimes — how to compensate for them.

Some Resources:

Do you know the true size of Africa?
Does size matter? US vs Russia
What is GIS?

  • ESRI ~ A geographic information system (GIS) is a computer-based tool for mapping and analyzing things that exist and events that happen on earth. GIS technology integrates common database operations such as query and statistical analysis with the unique visualization and geographic analysis benefits offered by maps.”
  • 20 Minute Video on GIS

Participatory Event 2014: GIS DAY


MOOCs Are Going Prime Time

Tremors 02

MOOCs for Penn State Credits — A Shift with Radical Implications

Good ideas don’t fade away. They have a habit of sticking around, and in time, they become great ideas. MOOCs are like that. The stumbling block was bucks: “Is there money in this thing?” It took a while, but name brand universities are beginning to see the green. You have to wonder why it took so long since the idea has been around from day one. Regardless, the business model that’s been hiding in plain sight is the multi-track option, and it will soon be featured in Penn State’s MOOC on Coursera, “Presumed Innocent? Social Science and Wrongful Conviction.”1 It will offer two options: free and for credit. Here’s a description: “The course…will be open to University students and the public with two track options. The free track will function much like Penn State’s previous MOOCs, while the for-credit portion will require a heavier workload and offer instructor and TA feedback and assessment on completed work in exchange for a fee less than that for an average college course.”

The fascinating part of this is what appears to be a waiving of standard admission procedures. I haven’t read the details on how this will all work out, but it seems anyone anywhere can register for the credit version, and if successful, earn Penn State credits. The only requirement is a fee that’s described as lower than average for a college course. If this is indeed what’s planned, then they’re setting a precedent that could ultimately change the higher ed landscape. Students will soon be able to earn college credits from top universities around the world from the comfort of their home and for a price that many if not most will be able to afford.

The impact on higher ed will be immense. Colleges and universities will need to open up their policies for granting degrees, and their emphasis will probably shift from primarily instruction to include large scale certification options, and this may mean a realignment of staff, with many leaving the classroom for duty as advisors.

Multimedia Web Skills — A Coming Crisis for Teachers

Paul Beaudoin, in “Six Ways to Be a Better Online Teacher,”2 explains how Shoba Bandi-Rao, an assistant professor at Borough of Manhattan Community College/CUNY, has “her students combine e-text, audio, images and video to create their digital stories.” They use “free software such as Wevideo and Window’s Movie Maker.” According to Bandi-Rao, “They shared their projects in class and had the opportunity to comment and receive feedback from their peers.”

This ability to create video presentations and share them online is the 21st century equivalent of posters and term papers. The question is, are our teachers prepared to demonstrate and teach these skills? If not, how do we get them there?

I believe this trend toward multimedia is a matter of when and not if. In preparation, colleges have two basic options: (1) Build up their IT service departments or (2) encourage and insist on teacher competency. The first is probably where most colleges will end up by default since it’s the path of least decisiveness. But the problem is cost, which will mushroom and quickly become prohibitive. The second, teacher competency, is the most sustainable in the long run. The key is to design and fund plans that will not only reward teachers who become skilled in the use of technology but to actively recruit new faculty who are technically adept.

Anant Agarwal: A Massive Contradiction?

Anant Agarwal, founder and president of edX, continues to push the value of on-campus learning as he touts the power of MOOCs3. For Agarwal, MOOCs are part of a blend, an enhancement for F2F courses. But he also sees MOOCs as vital beyond the campus experience. He says, “We also envision the world shifting toward a continuous education system — one that doesn’t stop after four years of college.” When pressed for examples of invaluable on-campus experiences, he offered two: “Universities provide…a space for students to learn how to work collaboratively with each other and gain those critical soft skills, and close interaction with faculty and senior students on research.”

Agarwal is probably representative of most leaders in higher ed when it comes to MOOCs. They want to have their cake and eat it, too. The fundamental contradiction is between the concept of open and closed. Unfortunately, they don’t blend very well. A closed course with an open module (MOOC) is still a closed course. Similarly, an open course with a closed module is also still closed. In the MOOC game, the only ultimate winner is an open course with no closed modules.

Returning to Agarwal’s two examples above, I don’t think it takes much imagination to see how collaboration and interaction are already integral parts of the online learning experience. Examples abound.
1 Katie Jacobs, “Digital learning technologies enable students to become better rounded,” Penn State News, 3/25/14.
2 Campus Technology, 3/26/14.
3 Hayleigh Colombo, “EdX founder – sheer numbers means MOOCs will stay relevant,” Boilerstation, 3/25/14.

Introduction to ‘Jewish Studies and Holocaust Education in Poland’

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

(Note: Earlier this month, we published an announcement of Lynn Zimmerman‘s Jewish Studies and Holocaust Education in Poland [McFarland, 2014]. As a follow-up, I planned to publish an interview with Lynn. However, after reading excerpts, I realized that she had answered all my questions in the introduction of her book. I asked for permission to publish the introduction, and she gracefully consented. Lynn’s focus “is the educational function and value of a Jewish studies program, of teaching young people about the Holocaust, of going to a cultural festival. How effective is each as an educational tool?…Are they perpetuating stereotypes or breaking them down?…How does each reflect current trends in identity politics?…Can these issues be the foundation for teaching about human rights in general?” Lynn’s probing style takes the issues beyond the covers of her book. -Editor)

Introduction by Lynn Zimmerman

Lynn Zimmerman

Lynn Zimmerman

One evening in 2002 I was listening to This American Life, a public radio program in the United States. A young American woman who was Jewish was talking to Ira Glass, the host, about living in Krakow, Poland. She talked about Polish interest in Jewish culture and the Jewish cultural festival, which has been hosted in Krakow since the early 1990s. This young woman said that she had mixed feelings about the interest in Jewish life and about this festival. She told him that on one hand she was happy that people in Poland were recognizing the contributions of Jews to their culture, history, and society. However, she was also slightly disturbed and even offended by it. She said she felt uncomfortable because at times she felt like she was watching outsiders reenact a romanticized version of culture that no longer existed (Glass, 2002).

Her story piqued my interest. Even though I had been to Krakow several times, I had never been to the festival, partly for the reasons she had mentioned. I thought that it would feel odd going to see other people celebrating a culture that was not theirs and that no longer existed in their country. I have never been to one of the popular American Indian festivals in the United States for the same reason. I had been to Kazimierz, the former Jewish quarter in Krakow, on several occasions, and I felt that I was in a museum or in a place whose past and present did not match. Like this young woman, I felt some discomfort. I knew from reading and talking to others that most of the residents and shop and restaurant owners were not Jewish. However, Judaica and Jewish souvenirs were being sold, and there were several restaurants featuring “Jewish” food.

I did finally attend the festival in 2005. I had similar mixed feelings as the young woman whose story I had heard. The unease started with the Friday Shabbat service at the Tempel Synagogue. This formerly “progressive” synagogue has a women’s balcony so that men and women could sit separately during services, women upstairs and men below in the main sanctuary. This arrangement is more in line today with traditional and Orthodox branches of Judaism, so I assume that the Friday evening service I attended was organized with the requirements of the more orthodox Jews in mind. As a modern Conservative Jewish woman, it was strange to have to sit in the women’s balcony since I am accustomed to egalitarian services in which men and women sit together and participate equally in the services. Not only was being segregated in this way strange for me, the set-up of the balcony was not comfortable. The panel on the front of the women’s balcony in Tempel Synagogue is over a meter high, so although you can hear quite well while sitting, you can see nothing of what is going on down below. To see what is happening in the main sanctuary below, one must stand and look over the rail. Therefore, during the service — and it was a religious service, not a show — there were quite a number of women in the balcony, some sitting, but most standing looking over the rail. Although I was sitting with some Jewish women from the United States, most of the people were Poles who came to see what the service was like. Think about how you would feel if you were attending mass in your church or services in your mosque and there was a group of people there as curiosity-seekers — not just to see the building, but to see what you were doing. It is a disquieting feeling. The other American women I spoke to expressed that same feeling. Not only was I participating in a service in a way that was strange to me, but I also felt as if I was part of a spectacle.

Photo of the Warsaw Festival of Jewish Culture, "Singer's Warsaw," by Radeksz, 9/2/09.

Warsaw Festival of Jewish Culture, “Singer’s Warsaw“; photo by Radeksz, 9/2/09. Click image to enlarge.

Continue reading

‘Invasion of the MOOCs’ – Grounded and Free

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Every once in a while, a book comes along that puts a grin on your face, and the more you think about it, the wider your grin becomes. Invasion of the MOOCs: The Promises and Perils of Massive Open Online Courses (Parlor Press, 2014), by Steven D. Krause and Charles Lowe, is such a book. And for all the right reasons.

Krause and Lowe

The sources are right: “Unlike accounts in the mainstream media and educational press, Invasion of the MOOCs is not written from the perspective of removed administrators, would-be education entrepreneurs/venture capitalists, or political pundits. Rather, this collection of essays comes from faculty who developed and taught MOOCs in 2012 and 2013, students who participated in those MOOCs, and academics and observers who have first hand experience with MOOCs and higher education.”

And the price is right. Free. Or you can choose to pay $30.00.

Krause and Lowe photo


“Introduction: Building on the Tradition of CCK08″ by Charles Lowe
“MOOCology 1.0″ by Glenna L. Decker
“Framing Questions about MOOCs and Writing Courses” by James E. Porter
“A MOOC or Not a MOOC: ds106 Questions the Form” by Alan Levine
“Why We Are Thinking About MOOC” by Jeffrey T. Grabill
“The Hidden Costs of MOOCs” by Karen Head
“Coursera: Fifty Ways to Fix the Software (with apologies to Paul Simon)” by Laura Gibbs
“Being Present in a University Writing Course: A Case Against MOOCs” by Bob Samuels
“Another Colonialist Tool?” by Aaron Barlow
“MOOCversations: Commonplaces as Argument” by Jeff Rice
“MOOC Feedback: Pleasing All the People?” by Jeremy Knox, Jen Ross, Christine Sinclair, Hamish Macleod, and Siân Bayne
“More Questions than Answers: Scratching at the Surface of MOOCs in Higher Educatio” by Jacqueline Kauza
“Those Moot MOOCs: My MOOC Experience” by Melissa Syapin
“MOOC Assigned” by Steven D. Krause
“Learning How to Teach … Differently: Extracts from a MOOC Instructor’s Journal” by Denise K. Comer
“MOOC as Threat and Promise” by Edward M. White
“A MOOC With a View: How MOOCs Encourage Us to Reexamine Pedagogical Doxa” by Kay Halasek, Ben McCorkle, Cynthia L. Selfe, Scott Lloyd DeWitt, Susan Delagrange, Jennifer Michaels, and Kaitlin Clinnin
“Putting the U in MOOCs: The Importance of Usability in Course Design” by Heather Noel Young
“’I open at the close’: A Post-MOOC Meta-Happening Reflection and What I’m Going to Do About That” by Elizabeth D. Woodworth
“Here a MOOC, There a MOOC” by Nick Carbone
“Writing and Learning with Feedback Machines” by Alexander Reid
“Learning Many-to-Many: The Best Case for Writing in Digital Environments” by Bill Hart-Davidson
“After the Invasion: What’s Next for MOOCs?” by Steven D. Krause


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