Learnings from a MOOC

By Jan Schwartz

In fall 2008, I participated in a semester long MOOC — Massive Open Online Course — through the University of Manitoba. The name of the course was Connectivism and Connected Knowledge; Stephen Downes and George Seimens facilitated it. Of the over 2000 enrollees from all over the world, I think fewer than 30 took it for credit. It was one of the most fascinating educational experiences I’ve ever had, and by the way it was free. For those interested, there is a short explanatory slide deck.

I admit to being primarily a lurker in the early part of this course because I had no idea what connectivism and connected knowledge meant, but by the end of the course I had a pretty good idea. A lurker in this instance is similar to an auditor in a face-to-face class; she is there to soak it all up, but not really to participate. There were published readings each week, but most of the learning came from other participants. We posted on Twitter, blogs, wikis, social bookmarks, and Moodle, which was the “home” platform for the course. There were even some discussions happening in Second Life. (Yes, eventually I started to participate.) In addition there was a once a week synchronous discussion on Elluminate. Continue reading

HOT@ ETAI – Day 2: English Teachers Association of Israel

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Editor, Teacher Education

I am presently attending the ETAI (English Teachers Association of Israel) “Linking Through Language” conference in Jerusalem. (Click here to see the first-day report.) One of the keynote speakers was David Crystal, a renowned linguist. His keynote plenary lecture was called “Myths and Realities of English on the Internet.” As an educator interested in both language and technology issues in education, I found his talk engaging and interesting.

Since the theme of the conference is “Linking Through Language,” Crystal opened up his remarks by referring to the Internet as “the language linker par excellence.” After hearing his talk, I think he would agree with Tom Preskett’s article from April 8, 2010, Social Media Doesn’t Threaten Literacy! Among other things Crystal pointed out that in order to text using abbreviated words, one needs to know how to spell the word to start with so you can leave out the proper letters. He also cited anecdotal evidence from teachers showing that students do not carry over these habits into formal writing to a large degree. Continue reading

What’s the Buzz? Buzz

A Google search for the term Google Buzz returns 72,400,000 hits. Google Buzz Twitter returns 53,100,000. This is considerable, given the relative new shininess of the Google Buzz functionality. But isn’t Buzz just like Twitter in Google? Is it a Twitter killer? What the heck is it? Continue reading

Textbook Tweets – Integrating Twitter into a Telecommunications Design Class

Dr. Carrie Heeter, a professor of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media at Michigan State University has been integrating Twitter into her graduate Design Research class this spring in two very different ways. She is moderating a class Twitter ID (@tc841) set to follow experts in the field. Heeter retweets particularly important content to students and to the vibrant professional community of design researchers on Twitter.

Heeter is using Twitter in an unusual way to enhance live class discussions of assigned readings. She calls it “Textbook Tweet Time.”

As a graded part of live class participation, Heeter’s students are assigned to come prepared to tweet interesting insights they gleaned from the week’s readings from the Twitter ID they created for class participation (this can be their personal Twitter ID or one created exclusively for class). Using the PowerPoint Twitter tool from SAP, Heeter configures and projects a PowerPoint slide to search for the hash tag #tc841read. The search is continuously updated so new tweets show up within 10-20 seconds.

Dr. Carrie Heeter

Students must include that hash tag in the tweet in order for it to show up on the slide (and in order to receive credit for participation). The PowerPoint Twitter Tool can be toggled between two alternate formats – one shows the 9 most recent tweets in dialog boxes, along with the twitterer’s ID and photo. The alternate photo shows the most recent 18 tweets. The examples below are from Textbook Tweet Time about Will Wright’s chapter, “Sim Smarts,” in Design Research by Brenda Laurel.

As tweets appear in class, Heeter calls on the tweeters to describe their post. The class discusses each post, then moves on to another tweet. The class tweets about and discusses one chapter at a time, to limit number of tweets and to focus the discussion.

Heeter finds that “the tweets give each student a platform, almost like handing them a microphone. The students explain and expand upon their tweet, and discussion ensues.” The tweets focus class discussion and ensure 100% participation (in this small graduate class). There is a permanent record of the tweets, which facilitates grading of live class participation and motivates attention to the readings before class.

Learners can also view the search results for #tc841read on Twitter search (located at http://search.twitter.com). This view does not limit the number of tweets that are returned unlike the PowerPoint tool (shown above). Heeter subscribes to the RSS feed for that Twitter search, creating a permanent record of the class tweets on her desktop. Heeter says, “Because I can search and archive the tweets, grading classroom discussion becomes more systematic, thorough, and objective. I gain a sense of what matters from the readings, and some feel for how deeply different students are delving in to the readings. The tweets motivate preparation for class and then serve to reinforce the important points; and they give each student a turn.”

Twitter is a public space, leading to the potential for privacy concerns. In Heeter’s design, the students can use their personal Twitter account for class or they can create a unique twitter ID just for TC841. She says, “They control their anonymity in their choice of twitter ID.” For example, one student’s Twitter ID is six letters, all consonants and unpronounceable. Another student is a deceased movie star. Still others use their real names.

Some students post a picture of themselves as their Twitter icon while others post a graphic or picture of something other than themselves. Still others are simply a variation on the default Twitter icon – a white bird silhouette with a color background. “I have one orange student, one purple, and one light blue,” says Heeter. “I know the Twitter ID that each student is using for class so I call on them by their real name (or for fun, sometimes by their silly Twitter name). Their tweets are public, but depending on the set up choices they have made, they are more or less anonymous.”

By navigating to http://search.twitter.com and searching for #tc841read, Heeter can click on the feed for the #tc841 query button to have a folder in her default RSS reader collect and save all textbook tweets.

Heeter feels that using tweets for classroom discussion and collaboration is working well, though she notes that “for larger classes I would need more control.” As it stands, with the number enrolled, she finds “this particular interface happens to be perfect as is right now in this class.”

Heeter lives in San Francisco and teaches in East Lansing. The design research class is a hybrid class with between one hour and 90 minutes of live class and the rest online. Heeter participates via Skype and Breeze connect. Students can either come to the classroom or Skype and Breeze from any remote location. Of course, the instructor need not be remote for Textbook Tweet Time to be an effective component of synchronous class discussion.

A Quick Hello

ETC, Twitter and Me by Jessica Knott
“That sounds useless.”

“I don’t care what a bunch of teenagers are eating for lunch.”

“I just don’t have time for it.”

I’ve heard all of these arguments (and then some), and could not disagree more. Hello, my name is Jessica Knott, I work as an instructional designer at Michigan State University, and I love Twitter. Since I signed up for the Twitter service in 2007, I have watched it (and myself) evolve from “I just ate a sandwich” to “Does anyone have good resources for marketing my online course?” When used well, Twitter is so much more than a status update service, it is a wonderful communication and information gathering device.

From conference back channels to blog post sharing to chatting with friends, the greatest thing about Twitter is that it can be whatever you make it. I have had the great fortune of making friends and valuable contacts from around the world, and fervently believe that the opportunity to network is one that educators should take advantage of. We’re all doing such fascinating things, why not share them?


That said, I understand that Twitter is not for everyone, nor will it meet the needs of all. I hope that, in my time here, I will provide information and resources you find useful to improve your Twitter experience, or help you in your implementation decisions.

I would love to hear from you. What do you want to see? What do you struggle with? What are your concerns? Let’s start the conversation! If you’d like to start it on Twitter, I can be found at http://www.twitter.com/jlknott or http://www.twitter.com/etcjournal.  Otherwise, don’t hesitate to e-mail me at jlknott@gmail.com. I look forward to “meeting” you.

Twitter Could Drive You Cuckoo – If You’re Not Prepared

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues

[Note: This article was first posted as a comment to Lynn Zimmerman‘s “Twitter Could Drive You Cuckoo” (1 Oct. 2009).]

At first, Dr. Alloway’s criticism of Twitter may seem part of a long line that includes Rousseau’s of La Fontaine’s fables in L’Emile, Flaubert’s of novels in Madame Bovary, Orwell’s of Boys’ Weeklies, and further educational damnings of TV, transistor radio, the internet, blogs, Facebook itself. Education pundits tend to damn new things until they become familiar enough to pundit about them.

But Dr. Alloway is not an education pundit. She is an educator concretely helping a group of slow-learning 11-14 year olds to improve their short term memory and reporting what she has seen in this group. Hence the unfairness of Malcolm Parks’s comment to the Higher Ed Morning article about the fact she has no research paper about new media use and short term memory: one doesn’t write a research paper on such a statistical basis.

Some other comments are more constructive, suggesting the exploration of more active and learning-enhancing uses of Twitter. Also possibly relevant: Danah Boyd’s Twitter: “Pointless Babble” or Peripheral Awareness + Social Grooming? (16 August 2009) on the importance of socializing and on the fact that socializing communication – in real life too – contains a lot of phatic roughage, i.e., utterances only aimed at indicating readiness to interact with others. If you have a bad short term memory, telling this “roughage” apart from content communication might be difficult.

But there might be a very concrete usability factor in the different impacts Facebook and Twitter have on Dr. Alloway’s students. For someone who has short-time memory problems, Facebook is easier to use because Facebook messages stay put, whereas they slide away very fast in Twitter. So her students are more likely to be paralyzed into passivity by this rapid flow than their peers who have a better short-term memory and can use the Twitter search engine or a remembered hashtag to participate in a conversation about a given theme.


Education pundits tend to damn new things until they become familiar enough to pundit about them.


To overcome this issue, she might show her students how they can limit the number of people they are following until they get more familiar with Twitter so that their homepage is less crowded and does not move so fast; how to bookmark the RSS feeds of hashtags for conversation topics they’d like to participate in; how to mark a given tweet as favorite and, in general, explore with them the Getting Started topics of Twitter’s help forum – help forum topics don’t glide away, and they can be bookmarked in a browser.

Another possible factor might be young slow-learners’ fear of seeming dumb in a whirl of fast moving Twitter conversations, just as in real-life fast moving ones: people tend to equate quick-wittedness with intelligence and slower thinking with stupidity, and this is possibly even more true for pre-teens and teens.

Here, an educator might show people who need more time both to understand and to utter how to use twitter to bring people to other modes of conversation, for instance, by tweeting links to blog or forum discussions where they can have enough time. This can even be automated: new posts and comments on ETC are automatically announced at http://twitter.com/etcjournal via twitterfeed.com, which translates the entries RSS feed and the comments RSS feed into tweets. Same with many other twitter accounts.

The twitter whirlwind might drive some people cuckoo if they enter it unprepared. But they can be shown how to use its power to steer themselves and others towards quieter conversation venues.

Twitter Bad for the Brain? – Balderdash, Poppycock, Twaddle

John SenerBy John Sener

[Note: This article was first posted as a comment to Lynn Zimmerman‘s “Twitter Could Drive You Cuckoo” (1 Oct. 2009).]

Studies like this, and the related reportage and unsupported speculation, are what could drive me cuckoo. More accurately, taking such reportage (and the related study behind it?) seriously is likely to be far less healthy for one’s brain and working memory than Twitter.

Look closely at what’s going on here. The cited articles make no mention of how Twitter was used in the study. So I spent (wasted?) 30 minutes or so looking for the actual study. Still haven’t found it. That’s your first clue: the assertion that Twitter is bad is mostly, perhaps entirely, an echo chamber.

A Google search did not yield the study; none of the articles I found have a link to it. I did find Dr. Alloway’s web site; that should have been promising — except that I couldn’t find a link to the study there either. I found a couple of references buried on her web site and through Google searches, but none which appear to be the related study either. Much more easy to find on her web site are links to all the media coverage she’s received and the talks she’s giving. That’s your second clue.

It appears from her web site that she’s doing some good research to establish the importance of working memory, among other areas. Bravo for that. She claims that it’s more valuable than IQ as a measure of intelligence (although the study I found measures the efficacy of working memory in terms of increased performance on IQ, literacy, and numeracy tests — hmmm). But even this appears to be a double-edged sword: she is also promoting “JUNGLE MEMORY, a brain-training program based on my research and promoted by Pearson Education, improved from a grade C to a B, and a B to an A after just 12 weeks! It is the only training program scientifically proven to raise grades.” So her web site is long on self-promotion and short on links to actual research.


Clearly working memory as defined is an important skill. But why is it THE most important skill?


But here’s the thing: What does all this have to do with Twitter being unhealthy for working memory? Where’s the evidence, the data? I found someone who suggested that the study did not actually test Twitter (can’t find that reference now). Dr. Alloway herself noted in a comment on her web site that the conclusions are “based on findings from a pilot study, more to follow once the study is complete.” Hmmm. Someone else on her web site asked four weeks ago for a link to the complete study; no response was posted. The reportage also suggests that Twitter was not actually tested, and that its detrimental effects are pure speculation on Dr. Alloway’s part. As reported in the Scotsman, “Paul Allen, editor of ComputerActive magazine, questioned the study and said technology like Twitter was ‘too new’ to make conclusions about. He said: “‘It sounds very spurious. I don’t see a correlation between the length of a message you send someone and the effect on memory. It could be a really interesting Twitter message.’” Exactly.

But in the meantime, the blogosphere has already run wild, and sooner or later you’ll be hearing someone tell you how science has shown that Twitter is bad for your brain. Just like another British scientist ran amok earlier this year with unsubstantiated speculation about how social networking sites were harming children’s brains.

Fortunately, the British have also provided us with several fine words for dealing with such situations: Balderdash. Poppycock. Twaddle.

To me, the worst part about this is that it totally obscures a deeper, more important question. As Dr. Alloway says on her web site, “Cutting-edge research has shown that working memory—the ability to store and manipulate information—is the most important learning skill a child can have. Working memory is the foundation of good grades and a successful life beyond the classroom. Without it, students would fail at every task, and with it they can dramatically improve their classroom performance.”

Clearly working memory as defined is an important skill. But why is it THE most important skill? It makes sense to say that if you believe that classroom performance as currently defined (store and manipulate information as per the teacher’s requirements) is in fact most important. But if you believe that there are more important skills, and that getting good grades is at least as much about social conditioning as it is about learning, then you would be asking a different set of questions. Ones, sadly, which we are not going to hear in this media blitz of misinformation…

Twitter Could Drive You Cuckoo

Lynn ZimmermannBy Lynn Zimmerman
Editor, Teacher Education

In “Study: How Twitter Is Hurting Students” on the Higher Ed Morning web site, Carin Ford gives an overview of several kinds of social networking sites and how they affect our brains.

The article includes a link to another article, “Facebook ‘Enhances Intelligence’ but Twitter ‘Diminishes It’, Claims Psychologist,” by Lucy Cockcroft, which examines the research conducted by Scottish psychologist Dr. Tracy Alloway.

Tracy AllowayAlloway contends that using Facebook helps improve working memory while Twitter, text messaging, and watching YouTube actually weaken it.

The Ford article invites readers to comment on the article and asks: Do you interact with students on Facebook? The reader responses are equally as interesting as the two articles. One response questions the validity of Alloway’s report. Others discuss pros and cons of using Twitter and Facebook in the educational setting.

These links seem to complement the various discussions that have been on ETC recently regarding the use of social networking sites in the educational setting, including Interview: Steve Cooper of TechUofA. TechUofA uses Facebook as a learning management system.

Encounters: Blended Learning Is Largely an Illusion

Encounters: ideas that go bumpIntroduction: This encounter begins with an idea, a “bump,” from Steve Eskow. It was originally posted as a reply to Lynn Zimmerman’s “Computers in the Classroom Can Be Boring.” Please participate in this encounter by posting a comment. I’ll append most or all of the comments to this page as they’re published. -js

steve_eskow80Steve Eskow, editor, hybrid vs. virtual issues, on 24 July 2009, said:

What Lynn is confirming, I think, is that blended learning is largely an illusion.

The “campus” is a collection of spaces designed to feature a standing and speaking “instructor” and a sitting and silent “student.”

The “lecture hall” is designed for lecturing, not for computers.

Again, the “classroom” is designed for a standing instructor speaking to sitting students.

Despite all attempts to to mute or end the lecture, it continues to be–overwhelmingly–the favored mode of instruction in our elite colleges. And it should be: Why pay distinguished scholars to teach and not listen to them?

Perhaps it is time to consider the possibility that the classroom and the computer are oil and water.

encounters: ideas that go bump

claude80Claude Almansi, editor, accessibility issues & site accessibility facilitator, on 25 July 2009, at 11:09 am, said:

“Blended learning” always reminds me of the mush I prepared in a blender, scrupulously following sadistic pediatricians’ instructions to wean my daughter. She contemptuously spat it out. Then our landlady asked me: “Have you tried that revolting stuff yourself?” and had hysterics when I did. Then she suggested tiny pasta with peeled and seeded raw tomato and some parmesan cheese and real olive oil. It worked.

By the same token, maybe computers still do have their place in the classroom, but a separate, not blended one. I once organized an intensive French workshop for which I’d made a wiki, with the precise purpose that students would not be distracted by note-taking during discussions and other active things. There were the active moments, then there were other moments when they wrote about these activities in the wiki, or did other writing assignments, like captioning videos. It worked too.

encounters: ideas that go bump

Steve Eskow, on 25 July 2009, at 2:19 pm, said:

Claude, suppose we added the video captured lecture to the blog and the wiki, and occasional web cam interactgions between teacher and student.s Is there something important lacking in this pedagogy that requires us to bring teachers and students to specially constructed buildings for face-to-face interaction?

(I like very much your gastronomic illustration of “blending,” and will steal it shamelessly. I may change it to what happens when you “blend” two splendid fluids, wine and water.)

encounters: ideas that go bump

Claude Almansi, on 25 July 2009, at 8:10 pm, said:

Replying to: Steve Eskow’s July 25th, 2009 at 2:34 pm comment:

Steve, for foreign language learning, I still believe that F2F can produce better results, as discussing in real time is part of using a language. But I left the wiki online (micusif.wikispaces.com so that the students who took part in the workshop could refer to it during their MA course. And others too: they can use the references to the materials we used and the activities we did with them, and even a link to some abominable snapshots I took with a webcam of what we wrote on flip charts. No videos: I don’t know how to. Had I lectured, I might have made an audio recording (did some of their discussions).

encounters: ideas that go bump

keller80Harry Keller, editor, science education, on 25 July 2009, at 11:11 am, said:

How many lectures have you attended that inspired you? What is the percentage? Most lectures I’ve attended would be just as good as pages in books.

Exceptions may abound. I was always engaged by Richard Feynman’s lectures. Perhaps, it was his engaging grin along with an infectious love of discovery and of explaining things so that his audience could comprehend. Still, the exceptions are rare.

Large lecture halls have been around for centuries. Maybe it’s time for them to give way to smaller venues and to social networking tools. My junior English literature classes typically had 3-5 students attending. Imagine having the professor (not a teaching assistant) almost to yourself.

I have sat in lectures by enough distinguished scholars. I’m talking about CalTech and Columbia. With few exceptions (e.g. Feynman), I could just as well as had a teaching assistant. Having distinction in scholarly affairs does not indicate lecturing talent. Great scholars are not always great teachers. Besides, they get paid for bringing in grant money and making the institution more famous. Undistinguished scholars (read assistant professors) are the ones who really get paid to teach.

So, yes, computers in the classroom take away from the interactive flavor that can be established by good teachers. Classrooms full of computers *look* boring. Computers at home or in the dorm room are another matter.

What will the future of instruction be? We’re in a state of extreme flux. The situation is too fluid to know for sure. It will include computers and the Internet. It will, for a long time anyway, include instructors. I predict that it will not include large lectures except as entertainment, which can be educating at times.

encounters: ideas that go bump

Steve Eskow, on 25 July 2009, at 2:34 pm, said:

Harry, if you were in charge of staffing for a new university, would you hire folks such as Richard Feynman and ask them to teach?
Richard Feynman
(I’m assuming that to take get faculty such as Feynman you’d have to offer them teaching loads no larger than five or six hours a week, right?)

Or would you not hire distingusiehd scholasr and researchers as teachers?

encounters: ideas that go bump

Harry Keller, on 25 July 2009, at 5:54 pm, said:

[@ Steve] Not ever having been a university administrator, I’m not certain what I’d do given the chance. I feel that the traditional role of institutions of higher education is being challenged. For many decades, students at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, et al. have discovered that their famous faculty is rarely seen by them.

These institutions perform two services. One is research and publication. The other is teaching. As much as I decry the University of Phoenix’s excessive concern with their bottom line, they have set out a model of the university solely as a teaching institution.

Universities have plenty of non-teaching researcher/publisher personnel who are called postdoctoral fellows. I was once a member of that tribe. Many professors view teaching undergraduates as a necessary evil they perform in order to hold a job at their chosen school.

The whole concept that undergraduate students will benefit from the crumbs that get scattered from on high makes little sense. What do they get for their high tuition? Mostly, they seem to get associations with their fellow students that will stand them in good stead in the future. The courses can be as good or better in other schools.

To answer your question, I would not be in charge of any part of a new university. If forced into it, I would have to understand fully the goals of that school before I could make such a decision.

It’s just as I harp on regarding science labs in secondary school. You shouldn’t do them until you know why you’re doing them. Teacher impose labs on students just because. Without clear reasons for having them, they’re a waste of time and money.

There are just too few Richard Feynman and Harry Gray types in the world to staff all of the universities that could use their services.

encounters: ideas that go bump

Claude Almansi, on 25 July 2009, at 8:10 pm, said:

Harry Keller’s July 25th, 2009 at 11:11 am comment. Re “I could just as well as had a teaching assistant” – when I had to take the history of the French language course in the 70’s, the professor was on sabbatical and his lectures were being read by his teaching assistant, who’d say things like “here the professor inserts a little joke:…” It was all the more zany as most other professors had agreed to have their lectures they repeated from year to year a) published as “polycopiés”; b) recorded on audio-cassettes, for students who could not attend lectures.

But like you, I also remember great lectures, like you: Jean Starobinski’s, George Steiner’s for instance. But thei impact was also due to the fact that they were combined with seminars where we could discuss with them.

encounters: ideas that go bump

Carrie HeeterCarrie Heeter, editor, games development, on 25 July 2009, at 4:22 pm, said:

Blended learning is the best!

I feel that my fully online courses finally became as good as or better than in person classes when I added one hour of synchronous time per week. My students report valuing the mix, claiming to enjoy it much more than fully online classes.

I never lecture during our precious hour. The online aspects of my blended courses include lots of mini-lectures (10 to 20 minutes of audio, often plus power point or video) and guest interviews (10 to 15 minute edited audio interviews with industry professionals), plus online readings. Individual and group project work also occurs outside of the hour “together.”

I use the hour to answer and ask questions. We often use polleverywhere,com to have small breakout discussions and come back and vote on an intriguing question. We negotiate changes in class assignments, and coordinate forming groups for group projects.

It would impair the quality of the student experience if I were not allowed to blend a dash of synchronicity.

encounters: ideas that go bump

Harry Keller, on 25 July 2009, at 5:58 pm, said:

[@ Carrie] You are reaching the perfect blend of blended instruction. You have figured out what instructors really can do best. You plan the course and then you execute it while making yourself the moderator of the discussions that you engender. The last part is critical for science and, I assume, for many other subjects as well.

Students should be full of questions raised by the curriculum you created. By having them discuss these questions among themselves with an expert helping to guide them, they’ll learn more than from a hundred hours of lectures.

encounters: ideas that go bump

jims80Jim Shimabukuro, editor, on 25 July 2009, at 8:00 pm, said:

Carrie, I think your definition of “blended” is unique. I believe most people would define “blended” as combinations of F2F physical meetings in a classroom and online activities such as participating in forums and logging in to webpages for readings. I also believe that many define “blended” as a smart classroom where instructor and students meet, F2F, and use the equipment to extend the learning environment to incorporate the web as well as social networks that allow all participants to communicate virtually. In some cases, the blended class replaces F2F meetings with online synchronous or asynchronous activities.

Then there are online classes that require a very small number of F2F physical meetings, sometimes as few as 1 or 2. I’m not sure exactly how to categorize these, but I think most would say these are online classes with minimal F2F requirements. Purists, though, might argue that even a single F2F requirement makes this a blended class. The point is that that requirement automatically excludes large numbers of students who cannot meet the F2F requirements. I tend to be a purist, but I’d be hard pressed to come up with a viable justification for my position.

IMHO, Carrie, your classes aren’t blended. They’re completely online but with synchronous requirements. Students and instructors can participate from anywhere without ever having to physically attend a required F2F session. I believe most online instructors require or at least encourage synchronous activities. For my completely online classes, I know that I always enjoy impromptu live interactions in the chat room that’s built into our university’s Sakai course management system. I drop in at times when I know many are online, working on assignments.

But I also know that, at least for my students, a synchronous requirement would be a huge stumbling block, negating the primary attraction that online has for them, which is the freedom to log in when it’s most convenient for them. My guess is that your population of students differs from mine, and this is why synchronous works for you and wouldn’t work for me.

encounters: ideas that go bump

Carrie Heeter, on 26 July 2009, at 6:31 am, said:


Actually, my students are F2F together (in Michigan) for the in person part, although I am online, for our synchronous hour. Since my department currently does not offer an online curriculum, the students are physically on campus. I Skype and Breeze in to the group. For my Serious Game Design class, they meet in a lab. For the Design Research class, they meet in a classroom.

However, I do entertain a mixed blended mode for those who live relatively far from campus. Students have the option of coming in person, or coming electronically.

It depends on the class composition each semester, but typically either all or most are F2F in the traditional sense, except that the instructor telecommutes.


encounters: ideas that go bump

Jim Shimabukuro, on 26 July 2009, at 8:05 am, said:

Thanks for the clarification, Carrie. I should’ve remembered this from your earlier articles Online Hybrid as Asynchronous, Co-present, and Remote and Adventures in Hybrid Teaching: The First Day Is the Hardest. Your courses are, indeed, unique. Still, the fact that you’re in San Francisco and the students are in Michigan tells me that the course is theoretically fully online — and the only major physical difference with other online classes is that the students happen to regularly gather in the same place at the same time, F2F, for sessions. They could just as easily be scattered throughout the world for instruction to occur, with their peer-to-peer interactions occurring virtually instead of F2F. However, I do realize that the students’ in-person interactions on site are qualitatively different from virtual interactions.

encounters: ideas that go bump

Harry Keller, on 26 July 2009, at 1:16 pm, said:

Carrie, I still think you’ve got the right idea. The tools may be incomplete, but the direction is good. The real advantage for young people to go to universities lies in getting away from their home towns, meeting diverse people, making friendships that will be useful in the future, and stuff like that. As our network tools mature, those goals also may be achievable in online settings.

The courses are just an excuse these days because you can learn course content without “being there.” You may even learn it better.

I went to an atypical school and have to carefully avoid using my own experience as a guide most of the time. I did not obtain the advantages I listed above because: I lived at home; everyone was a nerd and most were white males, and I maintained contact with none of my schoolmates. I am ready to be corrected if I have misread the more usual university environment.

Green Computing – Clippings from the Web

thompson80By John Thompson
Editor, Green Computing

Green computing. Green IT. Whatever you call it, it still means the same thing – doing what you can to reduce the carbon footprint associated with technology use, whether using technology at home or on the office desk or in the IT department’s lair.

Here are a few snippets from recent Web sites, blogs, etc. Click on the associated link to finish reading “the rest of the story” (as Paul Harvey would say).

Green Computing – Laptop Only Offices

There are ways to go green in IT that might not be obvious. Some businesses may have already made the change to laptops for reasons other than portability and a traveling workforce. Laptops are power savers, and saving power is a green goal. Let’s look at how laptops can help you go green.


MIS 1 Assignment4: Green Campus Computing

The growing use of computers on campus has caused a dramatic increase in energy consumption, putting negative pressure on CU’s budget and the environment. Each year more and more computers are purchased and put to use, but it’s not just the number of computers that is driving energy consumption upward. The way that we use computers also adds to the increasing energy burden.

Seven Design Considerations for a Green Data Centre

greenexpresIT depart­ments are under increas­ing scrutiny and pres­sure to deliver environmentally‐sound solu­tions. Large data cen­tres are one of the most sig­nif­i­cant energy con­sumers in an organisation’s IT infra­strucure so any mea­sures that can be taken to reduce this con­sump­tion (and there­fore also car­bon diox­ide emis­sions) will have a pos­i­tive impact on an organisation’s envi­ron­men­tal foot­print.


Green Campus Computing

Green computing is the study and practice of using computing resources efficiently. The primary objective of such a program is to account for the triple bottom line, an expanded spectrum of values and criteria for measuring organizational (and societal) success. The goals are similar to green chemistry: reduce the use of hazardous materials, maximize energy efficiency during the product’s lifetime, and promote recyclability or biodegradability of defunct products and factory waste.


Google banks on data centre with no chillers

Google has taken a radical new approach when it comes to cooling data centres. The search giant has opened a unique data centre in Belgium that has no backup chillers installed but, instead, relies totally upon free air cooling to keep its servers cool.


The Sustainability Potential of Cloud Computing: Smarter Design

If you listen to venture capitalists and tech gurus, cloud computing is “the new dot-com,” the “biggest shift in computing in two decades” or even the “Cambrian explosion” of the technology era. Among its other heavenly attributes, the cloud is being touted for its ability to address the enormous need for energy efficiency of IT’s own footprint.


Greening the Internet: How Much CO2 Does This Article Produce?

Twenty milligrams – that’s the average amount of carbon emissions generated from the time it took you to read the first two words of this article. Now, depending on how quickly you read, around 80, perhaps even 100 milligrams of CO2 have been released. And in the several minutes it will take you to get to the end of this story, the number of milligrams of greenhouse gas emitted could be several thousand, if not more.


Sustainable Desktop Computing

To achieve a sustained reduction in energy consumption associated with desktop computers we recommend groups across the collegiate university to work through these five steps:

Step 1: Estimate. First estimate how much electricity your desktop computing infrastructure will consume if computers are (a) left on all the time or (b) switched off at the end of the day.

Step 2: Research. Many groups within the university and around the world have implemented projects to reduce IT-related greenhouse gas emissions and costs. OUCS is working with these groups to write up a variety of approaches in the form of case studies.

Step 3: Implement. There are many tools you can implement to reduce IT-related electricity consumption. How you achieve this within your group will depend on the needs and skills of your users, and the hardware and software infrastructure you own.

Step 4: Communicate. You will need to encourage as many people as possible to “do their bit.” Behavioural change is likely to be a significant and critical part of any initiative that aims to improve environmental performance.

Step 5: Share. In step two we suggest you read about the work of other groups. In this last step we encourage you to share your experiences by documenting your approach in the form of a case study.



Happy reading “the rest of the story.” Where/how did I find this material? Using Tweetdeck, I set up Twitter searches on “green computing” and “green IT,” although almost all the URLs were found in the “green computing” (without using quotation marks) search. Using “green it” (with and without quotation marks) yielded mostly junk results. There was redundancy in the resulting tweets as people send retweets of the same information, plus there were soft/hard sells for related products. But you also find such information as cited above. You also might want to view my archived “Webinar, Blueprint for Green Computing,” found at the inaugural Virtual FOSE show’s site, http://virtual.fose.com/. It is a free registration.

Besides all this material, I hope that the resulting comments to this blog posting will contain more such green computing sites chockfull of more good information.

The New Social Networking Frontier

judith_sotir_80By Judith Sotir

The idea of using social networks in the classroom is still outside the comfort zone of many classroom instructors. Sites such as Facebook, MySpace and  Twitter have connotations that many instructors instinctively avoid. They see the pitfalls, but not the value. There are warning flags all over the place. I’ve heard educators say, “If you allow students to use a site like Twitter in the classroom, students will abuse it and just network with friends.” Sure, always a possibility. But if you allow students Internet access on computers, they can always access sites you don’t want them accessing. It all comes down to the control an instructor has in the classroom. An ineffective instructor with no classroom discipline doesn’t need Internet access to fail. Those are the teachers who would not notice handwritten notes being passed around the classroom in the pre-tech days.

We’ve (reluctantly) moved to acceptance of using academic websites in the classroom. Instructors see the value, and students know and like using them. We’ve found the value in YouTube, but have developed Teacher Tube to combat many of the content concerns. Social network sites are still a new frontier. First, instructors are not all that familiar with them. I think every instructor (and parent) should get on the computer and sign up for one or more of the social network sites, if only to know what it is that the kids are doing. One thing is certain, the KIDS are on them, daily, and even hourly. They can access them from classroom computers or cell phone browsers. I have Facebook and Twitter buttons on my iPhone so access takes less than a second. Of course they also let me know via email when someone has added something new to my page. It’s all about accessibility, and for kids, accessibility is like breathing. They just do it. My nephew once said that if he had to go more than a few hours without Facebook he would implode. I honestly believe him.

(Video source: “Twitter for Teachers” by Thomas Daccord, added to TeacherTube on 20 March 2009)

So how do educators use these tools? Tom Preskett in his article Blogs for Education, Blogs for Yourself referenced the Write4 website, which allows one to publish articles, photos, videos, etc. without set-ups or logins. Your work is published to your Twitter account. What’s the value? Easy and fast access. You give your students one site (such as your classroom Twitter account), and give them the ability to access these sites wherever and whenever they wish. You simply tell them to follow you on Twitter. It’s simple and effective because students are there anyway. Will all students actually read your Tweets? No, but not all students will read the homework you assign or even participate in class discussions. But the point is that students are familiar with social networking and use it regularly. And as educators, we have to believe that most students want to learn and want to succeed.

(Video source: “How Do You Use Twitter” by David Di Franco, added to YouTube on 8 April 2009)

I’ve never been able to understand instructors who believe students want to fail. They may not hang on your every word, but they do listen and know the correlation between work and success. Give them something they can use, and they will pay attention. Will they push the envelope? Of course. But that happens with any age group. Case in point: professional development programs. Put a group of instructors into a professional development class and watch them as they stare out the window, play with anything but the prescribed websites on the computer, and even talk and laugh with each other. In a training setting, most professional educators mirror the behavior of their students. The key to success is the same as the key needed to succeed with students: give them something they find useful and they will pay attention.

Interview with Bert Kimura: TCC 2009 April 14-16

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

The following ETC interview with Bert Kimura, coordinator of the annual TCC (Technology, Colleges and Community) Worldwide Online Conference, the longest running virtual conference, was conducted via email on April 7-8, 2009. Dr. Kimura, a professor at Osaka Gakuin University, orchestrates the completely online event from Japan. The theme of the 14th annual conference is “The New Internet: Collaborative Learning, Social Networking, Technology Tools, and Best Practices.” It will be held on April 14-16, 2009. TCC is a conference designed for university and college practitioners including faculty, academic support staff, counselors, student services personnel, students, and administrators.

Question: What’s the theme of this year’s conference and, more specifically, why did you choose it?

The Internet world is abuzz with social networking and Web 2.0 technologies and, recently, its impact on teaching and learning. We thought that this focus would be appropriate for faculty along with what their colleagues have been doing with these technologies in their (i.e., the early adopters’) classrooms.

TCC coordinators pay attention to the Horizon Report published annually by the New Media Consortium and EduCause. Two years ago, the report cited social media as a technology to have short term impact on teaching and learning.

bert_kimura2Question: What are the primary advantages of online vs. F2F conferences?

1. Ability to “attend” all conference sessions, including the ability to review sessions and content material.
2. No travel expenses or time lost from the workplace.
3. No need to obtain travel approval and submit complex documents to meet administration and/or business office requirements.

Question: What are some innovative or new features that you’ve added to TCC?

1. Live sessions have made the conference alive, i.e., people seem to like knowing that others are doing the same thing at the same time. Through these sessions they can interact with each other through the “back door,” a background chat that is going on simultaneously; this is the same as speaking to your neighbor when sitting in a large plenary session at a conference. Additionally all sessions are recorded and made exclusively available for review to registered participants for six months.
2. Collaboration with LearningTimes. The LearningTimes CEO and president are very savvy technically and hands-on, and they understand how educators work, how tech support should be provided, and they provide an excellent online help desk to conference participants, especially presenters. Their staff support responds quickly and accurately to participant queries. They also respond graciously and encouragingly to those with much less technical savvy.
3. Paper proceedings (peer reviewed papers). We believe that this is one way to raise the credibility of this event and make it accessible to a broader higher education audience. Research institutions still require traditional (and peer reviewed) publications for tenure and promotion. However, by publishing entirely online, we also promote a newer genre. Proceedings can be found at: http://etec.hawaii.edu/proceedings/
4. Inclusion of graduate student presentations. We feel that we need to invest in the future and that TCC can also become a learning laboratory for graduate students. Grad students, especially if they are at the University of Hawai`i, may have much greater difficulty in getting to F2F conferences than faculty.

Question: What’s the secret to TCC’s success?

1. Great collaboration among faculty, worldwide, to bring this event together. We have over 50 individuals that assist in one way or another — advisory panel, proposal reviews (general presentations, e.g., poster sessions), paper proceedings editorial board, editors (writing faculty that review and edit descriptions), session facilitators, and a few others.
2. Quality of presentations — they are interesting, timely, and presented by peers, for and about peers.
3. Continuity and satisfaction among participants. Our surveys (see Additional Sources below) consistently show very high rates of satisfaction. We have managed to persist, and TCC is recognized as the longest running online (virtual) conference.
4. Group rates for participation — i.e., a single charge for an entire campus or system.
5. TCC provides a viable professional development venue for those that encounter difficulty with travel funding.

Question: What are the highlight keynotes, presentations, workshops, etc. for this year’s conference?

See tcc2009.wikispaces.com for the current conference program, presentation descriptions, etc. For keynote sessions, see http://tcc2009.wikispaces.com/Keynote+sessions

“Sakura in early morning. Taking out the trash was pleasant this morning.”
iPhone2 photo (8 April 2009) and caption by Bert Kimura. A view of cherry
blossoms from his apartment in Tsurukabuto, Nada-ku, Kobe, Japan.
See his Kimubert photo gallery.

Question: What’s the outlook for online conferences in general? Are they growing in popularity? Will they eventually surpass F2F conferences? If they’re not growing or are developing slowly, what are some of the obstacles?

At the moment, I’m not sure about the outlook — there are more virtual individual events or hybrid conferences, but not many more, if any, that are entirely online. One thing that is clear is many established F2F conferences are adding or considering streaming live sessions. Some openly indicate that a virtual presentation is an option.

The biggest challenge is the view that online events should be “free,” i.e., they should use funding models that do not charge participants directly. For an event that is associated with a public institution such as the University of Hawai`i (Kapi`olani Community College), it is impossible to use “micro revenue” funding models because institutional business procedures do not accommodate them easily.

Likewise, there is no rush among potential vendors to sponsor single online events. I have been talking with LearningTimes, our partners, to see if a sponsor “package” might be possible, where, for a single fee, a vendor might be able to sponsor multiple online conferences.

Even with 50+ volunteers, a revenue stream is vital to assure continuity. We operate on a budget that is one-twentieth or less of that for a traditional three-day F2F conference. Without volunteers, we could not do this.

Question: What are the prospects for presentations in different languages in future TCC conferences? If this is already a feature, has it been successful? Do you see it growing?

At the moment and with our current audience, there has not been an expressed need for this. However, if we were to target an event for a particular audience (e.g., Japan or China), then we would need to provide a support infrastructure, i.e., captioning and/or simultaneous interpretation.

On the other hand, the Elluminate Live interface that we use for live sessions does allow the user to view the interface and menus in his native language. Elluminate is gradually widening its support of other languages. Having experienced the use of another language interface, Japanese, I find that it makes a big difference to see menu items and dialogue boxes in your native language.

Question: Tell us about your international participants. Has language been a barrier for their participation?

– So far language has not been a challenge. It might be that those who suspect that it will be don’t register. Some, I think, see this as an opportunity to practice their English skills.
– International participants are much fewer in number (less than 10 percent). We’ve had presenters from Saudi Arabia, UK, Scandinavia, Brasil (this year’s keynoter), Australia, Japan, Sri Lanka, Canada, Israel, Abu Dabi,  Greece, India, as well as other countries.
– In some regions such as Asia (Japan is the example that I’m most knowledgeable about) personal relationships make the difference in terms of participation. On the other hand, it is difficulty for a foreigner, even if s/he lives in the target country, to establish personal networks. I have been able to do this gradually over the past seven years — but it is still, by far, not enough to draw a significant number (even with complimentary passes) to the event. In Japan, it also coincides with the start of the first semester (second week of classes) and, consequently, faculty are busy with regular duties. If we were to hold this event in the first week of September, the effect would be the same for the US. We would have difficulty attracting good quality presentations and papers that, in turn, will draw audiences to the event.

Question: What’s in the works in terms of new features for future conferences?

– Greater involvement with graduate students as presenters and conference staff. It provides TCC with manpower and, at the same time, TCC serves as a valuable learning laboratory for students.
– Events, either regional or global, on occasion, to keep the community interacting with one another throughout the year.
– Some sort of ongoing social communications medium to keep the community informed or to share expertise among members on a regular basis (e.g., a blog, twitter, etc.)

[End of interview.]
The official registration period for TCC 2009 is closed, but you can still register online at https://skellig.kcc.hawaii.edu/tccreg
The homepage for the event can be found at http://tcc.kcc.hawaii.edu

Additional Sources: For additional information about the annual TCC conference, see the following papers presented at the 2006 and 2008 Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) Distance Learning and the Internet (DLI) conferences at Toudai and Waseda: Online Conferences and Workshops: Affordable & Ubiquitous Learning Opportunities for Faculty Development, by Bert Y. Kimura and Curtis P. Ho; Evolution of a Virtual Worldwide Conference on Online Teaching, by Curtis P. Ho, Bert Kimura, and Shigeru Narita.

Tech Tools Are Just Tools

Claude AlmansiBy Claude Almansi
Editor, Accessibility Issues

Has technology “reduced our social capital — the relationships that bind people together and create a sense of community,” as Dider Grossamy wrote in a comment to David G. Lebow’s Ten Dollar Computers and the Future of Learning in the Web Era [1]? Didier Grossamy himself adds: “Even though technological advances have contributed significantly to the problem of isolation, the emphasis on individualism in today’s society has compounded it.”

It might be the other way round: technology tools — the internet, computers, cell phones — are very powerful tools, but just tools. They can emphasize social trends, but they cannot create them. Read/Write tools like blogs, wikis, even Twitter — which might seem at first glance the epitome of self-absorption — can also be used very effectively for the defense of human and civic rights. See Don’t Block the Blog [2], Global Voices Online [3] and the Herdict [4] tool recently launched by Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, which allows users to report inaccessible sites and to see what site has been reported inaccessible in what countries, thus avoiding false censorship alarms.

Civic and Human Rights


“November 8 [2007]: Karachi Rally – No military rule, imperialism war” by > ange <. Some rights reserved.

These are great tools under dictatorships: when then President General Musharraf proclaimed the state of emergency in Pakistan in November 2007, the first sign was the blacking out of all independent televisions. Within a few hours, their political broadcasts were accessible again on the internet (with audio-only versions for people with low connectivity). Activists used twitter from their cell phones to let others know when they got arrested. And now that President Zardari is more and more emulating his predecessor’s autocratic behavior (look up Zardari in Google News), civil society is ready to use these tools again.

Of course, governments — and not only tyrannies — attempt to control these tools. In October 2004, at the request of the Swiss government, the FBI seized a server that hosted a page of Indymedia giving personal data of two plainclothes policemen who were inquiring about unrest episodes in Geneva during the Evian G8 Summit, with a not-too-veiled threat. The page was still retrievable through Google cache, and it was mirrored in a student’s page at the site of a US university. Indymedia responsibly deleted all attempts to link to that mirror, but it was very easy to find with a search engine (see, in Italian, L’FBI oscura vari siti Indymedia su richiesta della Svizzera e dell’Italia, ma…. [5]) – Oct. 10, 2004).

More dangerously, last fall, a Sicilian judge condemned historian Carlo Ruta for “stampa clandestina” (clandestine press) because he had published his research about the Mafia in his blog, using a 1948 Italian law that makes the official registration of press organs compulsory (see John Ozimek’s How an Italian judge made the internet illegal [6] – The Register, Sep. 26, 2008). As a result, many Italian bloggers now avoid this risk by adding a disclaimer saying that their blog is not a press organ.

Technology Education and Technology Scares


Is Google Making Us Stupid? by Salvor. Wikimedia Commons. In the Public Domain.

The point is, if these tools are to be used positively, people must learn how to use them, as with any other tool. Unfortunately, traditional media — from Nicholas Carr’s Is Google Making Us Stupid? [7] (The Atlantic, July/August 2008) to David Derbyshire’s Social websites harm children’s brains: Chilling warning to parents from top neuroscientist [8] (Daily Mail, Feb. 24, 2009) — feeling threatened by these tools, are all too ready to demonize them. And as a result, education authorities tend to block access to these tools rather than face the responsibilities involved in using them at school, where students could learn how to do so responsibly and efficiently.

Most such scare-mongerers’ arguments can be easily refuted, of course. Either they lack scientific evidence, or they quote it only partially, or they use fallacies: Derbyshire, for instance, suggests that the fact that autistic people can express themselves more easily with computers might imply that computers induce autism.

Constructive Criticism

However, we must also beware of the negative effect that an over-enthusiastic advocacy of these tools can have. In 1995, I attended a conference announcing the opening of the Università della Svizzera Italiana and its School of Communication Studies in Lugano (CH), pretentiously entitled “Oxford on the Lake.” I left midways: the zealot enthusiasm and sociological jargon of the “cybernaut” speakers put me off the internet for two solid years.

So it is important to pay necessary attention to serious criticism of these tools voiced by people really involved in using them for social and educational purposes. Two recent telling examples:

  • In From Red Guards to Cyber-vigilantism to where next? [9] (Feb. 24. 2009): Rebecca MacKinnon reflects on the limitations of only exposing socially harmful behaviors and human right violations rather than acting to prevent them: “Just because people have an expanded ability to speak truth to power thanks to new technology, that doesn’t automatically lead to a more just society in the long run unless you have institutional change. I wonder whether people will be so distracted and excited about the ability to use the Internet to speak truth to power that they’ll have less interest in such institutional change.” As she is co-founder of the above-mentioned Global Voices Online [3], which aims at giving voice to people directly concerned by events that traditional media do not normally cover, her invitation to go beyond simple information is particularly interesting.
  • In The use and misuse of computers in education: evidence from a randomized experiment in Colombia [10] (Feb. 1, 2009 — with links to the full report as downloadable 3.01Mb PDF [11] or plain text [12] files): Felipe Barrera-Osorio and Leigh L. Linden analyze the results of scientifically conducted statistical surveys of a Colombian project in which more computers were offered to schools and teachers were provided training. In spite of this training, teachers made little use of the increased learning possibilities of computers, and as a result, the impact on students was minimal. Providing computers and training teachers in their use in education — even if this training follows a constructivist pedagogical approach, as in this Colombian case — is necessary, but it is not enough to make teachers effectively use the available computers with their students.

Motivation and Follow-Up

Citizens who struggle to defend their rights under a dictatorship are more likely to be motivated to master the use of information and collaboration tech tools than teachers who have to help their students pass national tests that bear only on memorized notions. Motivation is essential.

But training offered to motivated people cannot be limited to a single initial course because technology evolves and, more importantly, needs to evolve. Therefore people must have the opportunity to further explore these tools “in action.” This can be done online, provided they are initially trained to use online networks where they can find or ask others for reliable additional information and help.