Jason Ohler’s ‘4Four Big Ideas for the Future: Understanding Our Innovative Selves’

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Jason Ohler, who wrote “Whither Writing Instruction in the 21st Century?” for ETC five years ago, released a new book last month, 4Four Big Ideas for the Future: Understanding Our Innovative Selves.

Jason developed a disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis from which he never expected to recover. It slowly and literally took his breath away. At the 11th hour, he received a double lung transplant.

“Rather miraculous,” he says. “A year later I have a new site, newsletter and book and feel great, back working full tilt, as inspired as ever.”

4Four Ohler2

For more information, link to his Amazon site and his personal website.

When he was huddled around an oxygen machine 24/7, he thought a lot. This book reflects what is important to him about life, learning and technology. Read some of the reviews for his book.

From the Amazon ad: “Dr. Jason Ohler has been telling stories about the future that are rooted in the realities of the past during the entire thirty five years he has been involved in the world of high technology and innovative education. He is a professor emeritus, distinguished president’s professor of educational technology and virtual learning who has won numerous awards for his work. He is author of many books, articles and online resources, and is a speaker, humorist, teacher, media psychologist, cyber researcher and grandpa. He is also a lifelong digital humanist who is well known for the passion, insight and humor that he brings to his presentations, projects and publications.”

 

Creating Community in an Online Classroom: Part 1 – Getting to Know You

Judith_McDaniel2_80By Judith McDaniel with Tim Fraser-Bumatay, Daniel Herrera, and Ryan Kelly1

Is it possible to get a “real education” from an online class? Several years ago a professor from the University of Virginia published an opinion piece about online education in the New York Times and insisted that it was impossible. “You can get knowledge,” he continued, “from an Internet course if you’re highly motivated to learn. But in real courses the students and teachers come together and create an immediate and vital community of learning.”2

I teach literature in a fully online Master’s program. My students enroll from all over the United States and from overseas. Our asynchronous discussion forums give students an opportunity to interact, to be thoughtful in their responses to my discussion prompts and to one another. I find the online classroom to be stimulating, diverse, and creative. It is different from a face-to-face class experience, but it can be different in ways that enhance student learning through the creation of an online community.

Herrera Kelly Bumatay

Daniel Herrera, Ryan Kelly, and Tim Fraser-Bumatay

I am joined in writing this article by three of the students who have just completed their Masters degree in Literature and Writing in this online program. We have created an article that has two parts. In the first we talk about building community and how that happens, how students from very different backgrounds begin to interact, enjoy one another, challenge one another. In the second part of the article, we recreate some of the conversations we had about difficult subjects and difficult texts. We talked about race extensively when we read Othello and Heart of DarknessContinue reading

Zen and the Art of Instructional Technology

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Updated 8/14/15

In her latest article, Lynn Zimmerman comments on Dian Schaffhauser’s “5 Essential Multimedia Skills Every Educator Must Master.” The skill that grabbed my attention is “Troubleshooting Your Own Tech.”

Troubleshooting is the most critical tech skill for 21st century teachers. Integrating tech into instruction invites “Trouble,” with a capital “T” no less. But it’s “good” trouble, the kind that extends our students’ reach into the world of web-based information and communications.

Technology is the proverbial can of worms, problems that mount as usage increases and deepens. Again, these are “good” problems, problems that come with the new territory that technology has opened up.

There’s no escaping the need to troubleshoot, or problem-solve. Teachers have to embrace the messiness that technology represents. They have to be willing to get their hands dirty, to pop the hood of hardware and software to see what the problem is, to futz with the parts to fix it, often with students looking over their shoulder and getting their hands dirty, too.

I’m not talking about repairing hardware or debugging software, although these are possibilities down the road. I’m talking about basic user-oriented skills such as setting up LMS and social media (SM) accounts, designing and developing course websites and resources, navigating the virtual learning environment, posting and commenting, participating in and moderating online forums, customizing settings, maintaining links, developing and maintaining static and interactive course webpages, integrating apps and SM such as Twitter and blogs into the teaching and learning process; intermediate skills such as coding in basic HTML to provide additional functions in apps, developing graphics and videos to facilitate learning, troubleshooting hardware and software usage and compatibility issues; and advanced skills such as continuously adapting hard and soft as well as traditional and new technology in innovative ways to enhance instruction and learning.

It’s important to stress that troubleshooting isn’t an exception, a one-time thing. It’s the norm in the world of instructional tech. It is an integral part of the process, which is continuous, dynamic, organic. When — not if — teachers run into problems, they should be able to fix them on their own. This ability to troubleshoot independently is critical because it gives them the skills they need to help their students, who will raise not only similar but a wider range of problems at a frequency that increases exponentially with class size. Referring most or all of these problems to IT specialists is simply out of the question. Instruction would never get off the starting line block.

It’s also important to note that technology is a “we” thing in the online or blended classroom, which means troubleshooting is a communal process. Everyone is at once a learner and a teacher, and the roles shift from moment to moment, from tech to tech. Thus, the ability to work collaboratively with colleagues, support staff, students, and others is essential.

A teacher who can’t or won’t troubleshoot will never be able to use tech in instruction. Total reliance on IT specialists to solve every tech problem is simply unsustainable.

But the good news is that once a teacher experiences the high that comes with getting under the hood and attacking a problem, s/he is on the road to becoming a DYOT (Do Your Own Tech) junkie. For a DYOTer, a problem is an invitation to learn, and with every mastery comes increased confidence and daring in trying out other technology.

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Related article: Why Teaching Is No Longer Relevant in Online Courses and MOOCs

Why Teaching Is No Longer Relevant in Online Courses and MOOCs

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Harry Keller raises some hot issues in his comment on “Attrition in MOOCs: Is It a Problem or an Advantage?” The good news is that most are attributable to course design, which exposes a critical difference between traditional and blended courses, on the one hand, and online courses and MOOCs, on the other. In contrast to a series of teacher-led onground classes, an online course is more like a pattern of codes in a complex software program.

As such, it shares a trait common to all programs, and that’s bugs. In other words, it’s a perpetual work in progress. It’s never completely free of bugs. In fact, you don’t know what the bugs are until users expose them or bring them up. To make matters even worse, some of the bugs are intermittent, lying dormant for weeks or months and suddenly popping up when least expected.

This is where debugging in the form of creativity and problem solving enters the picture. In short, setting up an online course is just the beginning of a long-term commitment to debugging and improving the “code” until the course does what it’s supposed to. It’s not a matter of a semester or two but years, and the process is open-ended, never ending.

This means that abandoning a MOOC or online course because it fails in the first go around is like expecting a software program to work perfectly the first time it’s used. It’s never going to happen.

A great online course is great because it’s always evolving even after many years. It never stops growing and changing. By the same token, a poorly designed course can only get better IF the debugging is effective. Thus, teachers, students, and administrators really need to be patient and give the process a chance to evolve.  Continue reading

The End of Dark Energy

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

Dr. Peter A. Milne and his associates have found an unexpected and, to the cosmological community, startling result from their surveys of supernovae. This result illustrates both the consistent and varying nature of science at the same time.

Dr. Peter Milne

Dr. Peter Milne

We know from a great many astronomical observations that the universe has been expanding for a little short of 14 billion years and continues to expand. Because of gravity, everyone expected that this expansion was slowing over time with theories and measurements suggesting that this expansion would eventually coast to a very dilute universe drifting apart at ever slower speeds.

In the 1990s, some astronomers separately discovered that the universe is expanding ever more rapidly instead of the expected opposite slowing of expansion using measurements of he brightness of very distant supernovae. They received the Nobel Prize in physics for this work in 2011.

Stars can explode. One common explosion is called a nova. A much more cataclysmic and extremely brighter explosion is a supernova. Supernovae shine with a brightness that can exceed that of all of the hundred billion or so stars in its galaxy. For this reason, we can see them in distant galaxies that are barely visible in our best telescopes. A supernova is a rare event occurring about three times a century in a galaxy the size of our Milky Way. With hundreds of billions of galaxies, however, it’s not too hard to find hundreds each year using modern astronomical equipment.

A special sort of supernova created when the two stars in a binary star system go through a specific series of interactions is known as a type 1a supernova. Because of the steps required to reach supernova status, the brightness of these type 1a supernovae has been considered to be a constant that can be used to estimate distances to very distant galaxies. Brightness declines with distance in a very precise manner.

There remains the possibility that acceleration of very distant bodies in our universe away from each other is a basic property of our space-time structure not detectable at smaller distances of only millions or even tens of millions of light-years, that “dark energy” is just an attempt to recast a phenomenon into understandable terms, just as the caloric theory of heat was long ago. -HK

The measurements of these supernovae were the reason to believe that the expansion of the universe was accelerating. We are seeing these very distant supernovae with light that started its journey over ten billion years ago when the universe was very young. Dr. Milne has discovered that type 1a supernovae are not all the same but fall into two categories of different brightness. Furthermore, the supernovae from the early universe are, on average, less bright than those in the more recent universe.

The lower brightness of the distant supernovae may well be due to less inherent brightness instead of greater distance. This finding destroys a fair piece of that Nobel Prize discovery. Dr. Milne still attests that the universe’s expansion is accelerating, just not so fast, but the vast number of recalculations being done to account for this new discovery will take some time.  Continue reading

Life on Frozen Moons

picture of Harry KellerBy Harry Keller
Editor, Science Education

Now that three of the moons of our solar system’s gas giant planets have been said to have subsurface oceans, it’s time to take stock and consider the meaning of these analyses.

Ganymede and Europa of Jupiter along with Enceladus of Saturn are likely to have oceans far below their frozen surfaces. Should we send unmanned missions to explore these unusual moons, and what should we be searching for? Many have exclaimed that we have extremophiles (organisms that survive in extreme environments) here on Earth, so we cannot discount the likelihood of life beneath miles of ice where the Sun never shines.

This image or video was catalogued by Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Enceladus’ north polar region. This image was catalogued by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

If we search near the geysers of Enceladus, might we find the frozen remnants of miniature fish coughed up from deep down inside this odd moon? Answering this question requires more than a moment’s thought. What is life? How does it begin and advance? Are the ingredients for life available in those cold, deep seas?

Here’s my definition. Life uses available energy and materials to reproduce itself and has the potential for errors in reproduction that will allow for evolution. From what we know, those vast, cold underground oceans have the necessary ingredients. Without an energy source, they would be frozen and not liquid. Heat coming from the inside of a moon must provide chemicals that can both be used as chemical energy sources and as materials for constructing living organisms.  Continue reading

Does SETI Make Sense? Part IV: Communicating

Harry SETI header

We are likely to be the only civilization in our galactic cluster if the chances of forming such a civilization are but one in ten trillion. These are not encouraging numbers. For the sake of argument put the odds up to having 100 civilizations in our galaxy. That’s lots more than I would expect and means that the estimates are way off, by a factor of 10,000. Such an improvement in estimates certainly is friendly to SETI. But, can we contact one of these other civilizations?

Although I think that SETI is a colossal waste of resources, I cannot fault those who pursue this dream.

The galaxy is a very large place, about 100,000 light-years across. Any civilizations will be in an annulus around the center because being close to a galactic center is inimical to life. We won’t be able to communicate to the other side of our galaxy due to the extreme noise originating at our galactic center. Our potential range for communication is probably about 20,000 light-years, but this range again is limited by the number of noisy objects between us and our target.  Continue reading