Category Archives: The University

the double-edged hobson’s choice janus-faced statement of learning objectives

We’re closing in on getting classes started for spring, so I’ve been updating syllabi and course statements.  I’m really trying to cut – heavily cut – what I provide in the current Weblogs and Wikis statement. Not condense, not rework, but just cut.  One problem is that in explaining objectives and criteria for evaluation has to take two forms: one needs to be student-readable, the other is for the administration.  For students to learn with, I state these as guides rather than promises/outcomes/objectives/goals:

This course gives you the opportunity to

– Become skilled in navigating, reading, and creating written content in social media.
– Develop an understanding of how social media systems work technically; develop a critical understanding of the rhetorical affordances in social media systems; develop a critical understanding of how people interact socially in these systems; and develop a sense of potentials and pitfalls in the systems and their use.
– Become familiar enough with the concepts of social media communication able to be able to review and articulate social issues and implications.
– Critically consider how social media has and continues to re-shape learning, social, and communicative practices.
– Publish your work with these issues and topics, and comment on your work as it unfolds. aka: Become a cartographer
– Participate in a semester-long conversation about these issues and topics with others in this class and outside the class,
– Synthesize ideas of social media to develop critically-aware, media-specific responses in a number of media.

For the students, they are guides, hopes, things to aspire to. For me, they are what I have to give opportunities for the students to try. But I also evaluate students using these objectives as the course progresses: They are holistic, heuristic, aimed at pedagogical ends of understaning and comprehension, familiarity with new ideas, increasing confidence and expertise. I leave  how the student demonstrates each of these unstated, in part because the how wouldn’t make much sense to students until the end of the course, and in part because I don’t wish to close off possibilities for their demonstration by over-defining them, and in great part because this is a class where people learn across time rather than just show at the end.  So, how do I know if, for instance, a student is “critically considering how social media has and continues to re-shape learning, social, and communicative practices?” By her way of her writing, among other means. But to specify the criteria by number of words, posts, or something we’ll call engagement is less than useful to the student. I suspect I will see it in her writing, in her use of tags, in her comments on the work of others … I know I have to provide plenty of opportunities for her to practice it, watch for it as she does, and let her know when and where I see it.

But in counterpoint, here are the goals/objectives/criteria/indices I have listed for the non-pediagogical administrative view of the course.

Students will

== demonstrate technical proficiency by ==
– setting up and maintaining a weblog for the course, and using it for course purposes
– ditto wiki pages
– ditto Twitter
– demonstrate a growing independence in technical matters over the semester
– demonstrate a broadening of media attempted over the semester

== demonstrate knowledge by==
– engaging with the work of others in the class by commenting and responding
– posting regular work with readings and topics on your blog
– engaging (meaning //annotating, sharing, remixing, repurposing//) materials both assigned and what you find
– searching for and engaging other materials
– engaging in a continuing refactoring of ideas during the course
– a developing depth and quality in your reflections over the semester

== demonstrate responsibility and academic integrity by ==
– attending face to face classes and maintaining a presence on line
– submitting materials on time
– informally documenting sources in the manners appropriate for the web. Linking, obviously, but look at some weblogs and you’ll see how it’s done.)
– not cheating

What are these really? Because they aren’t goals. They are more like statements of necessary conditions for learning to potentially occur. They are purportedly visible and measurable outcomes – not for my use, not for the use by students, but for administration. But there are problems: Since the administration won’t tell faculty what wants to use these statements for, I can’t be more specific and I can’t be sure that I’m specifying anything meaningful to them.  If they measurable (or worth measuring), they aren’t calibrated, nor can they be in a useful way. I can say with a degree of certainty that they are pedagogically meaningless in a classroom of any significance, and they don’t provide a measure for evaluating learning. They look like they might, but they don’t.

So, in the statement for students, I add a couple of paragraphs to help make the Borges List perhaps useful to students as learner-readable criteria:

That’s the evidence I’ll look at during the progress of the course. Here are the criteria I’ll use for a final evaluation of your work:

– The complexity of what you take on and how you address it. That is, To what extent have you challenged yourself and the medium?
– The sophistication of ideas with which you address the tasks you set for yourself.

In short, the more challenging the tasks you set for yourself, and the more sophisticated the work you take on, the higher the final grade. These features and criteria emphasize //exploring//, //experimenting//, //developing self-reliance//, as well as traditional academic qualities of //complexity//, //insight//, //tenacity//, and //risk//.

So, horns of a dilemma avoided at the almost-certain risk of confusing students. Maybe next semester, I’ll try color coding things: things students need to know in blue, and administrative text in yellow.

the high summer turn, books, and a consideration of method

I don’t look forward to it, but the week of the 4th of July strikes high summer – the turning point of summer towards autumn. The green starts to fade, the wildflowers start to seed, and I have to get my fall book orders in and start some serious work on syllabi.

The bookstore asks faculty to get book orders for fall in to them by April – five months early. Lately, the request has become a demand as they try to set deadlines for book orders. If I know the course is ready, I try to get an order in during spring. But for upper-division clases, and classes that need revision, I use the first month of summer to re-think the books. If a book didn’t work in the last offering, I want to change it – and that means reviewing student feedback on the course that comes in after the course is over.

I changed books in three of four classes this semester. Tech Writing remains the same: Graves and Graves, A Strategic Guide to Technical Communication. For A&E, I’m staying with OUP’s So What? but have changed the target text – the text we’re all reading to see how scholarly argument proceeds. This year it’s Jenkin’s, Ford, and Green, Spreadable Media. It’s written in the scholary register that students in Argumentation are expected to use.

For the Comp Theory grad seminar, I updated to Villanueva and Arola, Cross-Talk, 3rd edition – not because it’s a better edition but because the 2nd is no longer in print. And I dropped Wysocki, et al, Writing New Media for a broader source book, Lutkewitte, Multimodal Composition. That was a sacrifice, but new media has moved on and a sourcebook provides a better starting point for grad students in theory.

I made the biggest change in E-Rhetoric. For the second time, I’ve dropped Stoner and Perkins, Making Sense of Messages for Longaker and Walker, Rhetororical Analysis. Stoner and Perkins is far stronger on method, but Longaker brings in more focus on rhetorical concepts. Cheaper, too.

I keep finding that undergrad students are not enamored by a focus on method. They want to get to the rhetorical concepts and use the ad hoc methods they have developed informally in high school and their first couple of years at college. It’s frustrating. I say, “Look, there’s a method to this madness, a set of practices your professors use to figure out what a text means and how it works. We don’t work by intuition. You can learn the method. It takes some practice, but it will hold you in good stead.”

“Nah. Let’s just start and you can tell us when we’re right. We learn video games by trial and error. Let’s try that here, ok?”

A focus on method lets us develop far more insightful and significant analyses, but the process is intially tedious, requring repeated close observations and close description before bringing in rhetorical concepts. So I’ve toned down the emphasis on method for the looser hit-or-miss approaches students are in the habit of using. I’ll sneak in method by way of exercises and illustrations of how to proceed. It’s back to correcting student making instant conclusions and moving away from the analytical terms of rhetoric to informal terms, but those corrections are how we tend to learn: by closer and close approximation. Anyway, I’ll remix a lite version of method from Stoner and Perkins and bring that in as How to Proceed. Scaffolding.

course guarantee syllabus boilerplate

20130822-143438.jpg

In keeping with the commodification of the teacher-learner relationship, I’m providing students in my classes with this guarantee.

I can guarantee that what we are studying in this course, both subject and method, is applicable outside the classroom in your daily and your professional life. This course is designed so that what you learn during the course you can use in other situations and other courses, both at the university and elsewhere, now and later in life. However, there is no guarantee that you will actually make use of what you learn in this class outside of it, any more than buying a toothbrush guarantees you will use it to keep your teeth and gums healthy. That use now and later is solely up to you. Don’t squander what you learn.

Maybe the last sentence is too much, but I’m hoping it will stick with students. Free to share and adapt.

from coursera to d2l: who’s gonna pwn you first?

This is from CUCFA President Meister’s Open Letter to Coursera Founder Daphne Koller, concerning Coursera pwning student user-assessment data.

Eventually, all students in my Coursera class will learn that data that they now provide to the company for free -perhaps so that it can grade them -,will be the private property of Coursera, which can then sell it back to them in the form of “services,” which could include their own performance record but also different “views” comparing it with that of students at better universities, those with higher test scores and with advanced degrees. The possibilities for renting this information back to its students are endless, not to mention the added possibility of developing other markets for the user-assessment information that Coursera will “own.”

But it’s not just Coursera who collects student data to sell back. Here’s The Register reporting on the British coalition government selling product

At the end of 2012, Education Secretary Michael Gove told Parliament that he wanted “to share extracts of data held in the National Pupil Database for a wider range of purposes than possible in order to maximise the value of this rich dataset”.

Ultimately, the government wants the private sector to tout “tools and services which present anonymised versions” of records on Blighty’s kids.

But getting pwnd is closer to home for MnSCU schools through D2L. D2L recently announced that they are creating products to sell student data back to the students “to improve student performance”

Featuring Student Success System™, an analytics engine that delivers fact-based and accurate insights on learning progress, the new Desire2Learn Learning Suite will improve learner engagement and instructor’s insight into each individual’s learning path.

“Harnessing big data and predictive analytics has transformed many industries, yet to date, the analytics to support next generation learning has been missing from education,” said John Baker, President and CEO, Desire2learn. “With today’s release, Desire2Learn will be delivering predictive analytics to millions of learners who will benefit from more successful outcomes. With this innovation, we can now provide valuable insights that will improve completion rates, lead to higher outcomes, and allow for the development of more impactful personal learning experiences.”

Keep in mind where the big data for those predictive analytics are coming from: faculty and students who have been using D2L for the past few years. Not just one university’s data but an entire system’s worth of data.

So D2L is finding its success not in the software platform it manages, which is an atrocious design error on stilts, but in using the data that its customers (schools, university systems) collect on their stakeholders (students and faculty). Years ago (206? 7?), when BSU moved to D2L, I was involved in the discussion locally. Some of us were concerned that D2L would collect and use data, but we were assured by The System that this wasn’t an issue. In the end, we never had a look at the contract with D2L, either. D2L’s disingenuousness is not new nor surprizing, and no one likes to hear that their vendor is parasitic. But they are.

D2L collects and aggregates data on classes to sell to vendors and students and, likely, back to the university.

So tell me why these scenarios aren’t likely, and perhaps even occurring:

– Say that D2L aggregates data on how often students pass reading quizzes in the Pro Ed programs across the MnSCU universities. Presumably, if students do well on the first pass through the quiz, the teacher is effective. If students need to take the quiz multiple times, the teacher is less effective. This wouldn’t be difficult to control for student variables. Evaluate which teachers are more “efficient” by those scores, then sell that information to students and to administrations. Students take the more “efficient’ – or is it the easiest? – teacher, and admins add the measure of “inefficiency” to the faculty member’s tenure and promotion evaluation. The admin, not the faculty, has the data to demonstrate it. D2L gets to claim they are improving the educational experience for students.

– A teacher has students use a Cengage textbook quiz bundle. D2L aggregates and sells scoring frequency data to Cengage. This lets Cengage revise their quizzes and textbook. Students and the state, however, do not receive remuneration on the data. Instead, Cengage releases a revised text, making the old text and quiz useless and requiring that both teacher and students buy new stuff, at a higher price. Students are creating their own increase in textbook prices. Cengage and D2L get to claim that they are improving the educational experience.

Three observable problems:

  • To be useful to D2 – that is sale-able –  the aggregated data must be decontextualized and relabeled as “best practices.” However to be useful to the teachers and students the data has to remain in context.
  • The state pays D2L for the software, a cost we openly pass on to students (We charge a fee for online courses). D2L then sells student performance numbers to back to to the and to others without remuneration.
  • Neither students nor teachers have any control of how the data is used, yet they both have vested interest in both their individual and collective performance.

In order to use the data that would help teachers become better – a better narrowly defined as what can be collected and analyzed –  we have to buy it back from the vendor who charged us for it in the first place. I like a situational irony as much as anyone else, but this one is too expensive for the humor.

I could be wrong about this – I don’t have access to the D2L contract. If I am wrong, if D2L isn’t using the data it collects to create products to sell back to those who generated the data in the first place, I’d appreciate a correction. But until then, I’m steering students I work with clear of D2L. It won’t make a difference, but I get to be smug.

 

the xmooc backlash – take back the curriculum

I really shouldn’t enjoy the xMOOC backlash so much, but I do. Perhaps it’s because academics are beginning to unite. Here, it’s an issue of complicity: 

The San Jose State professors also called out Michael Sandel, the Harvard government professor who developed the course for edX, suggesting that professors who develop MOOCs are complicit in how public universities might use them. Why Professors at San Jose State Won’t Use a Harvard Professor’s MOOC

And at Amherst, it’s moderation and sobriety in the face of edX.

But Amherst’s rejection of edX, decided by a faculty vote, could mark a new chapter for MOOCs—one in which colleges revert to their default modes of deliberations and caution. “I think we’re at the early stages of that honeymoon period coming to an end,” says Richard Garrett, vice president and principal analyst of the consulting company Eduventures. Why Some Colleges Are Saying No to MOOCs, at Least for Now

Here at BSU, we haven’t seen xMOOCs appear yet, but we have a similar naked emperor in the 80/20 scheme in the Master Academic Plan. (It’s Appendix F of this PDF) The idea is this: Faculty develop an online program, then turn the teaching over to adjuncts and fixed termers to make the program sustainable by tuition alone. Sustainable is the new buzzword for on-the-cheap and killable. That is, the university commits to the program only as long as we can make money by it. If we can’t, the program is gone, and students are out in the cold.

That is, 80/20 doesn’t just work against faculty (not to mention the IFO contract) but against students. Within a year, a program that a student graduated from could easily disappear. Program gone. Faculty gone. Support gone. History. Hi ho.

The 80/20 works against some of the MAP’s other ends, such as 

2 HIRE AND SUPPORT EXCELLENT FACULTY

C’mon: Excellent faculty will run for this hills at the sight of such a program. Or this

3 HELP BUILD THE FUTURE OF NORTHERN MINNESOTA: ENGAGEMENT AND SERVICE 

80/20 is designed to bring in students from distant markets, not area markets. We shouldn’t expect students on an 80/20 program to be engaged or provide serve to our local area. 

What the xMOOC backlash suggests is that excellent faculty won’t get on the bandwagon when the plan is dodgy, and here’s hoping students won’t either.

whither BSU?

I read on the boards today our past and our future.

Martin Weller is coming face to face with the inequities that tuition burdens place on students, as he discusses here.

… The higher education sector in the UK was a widely respected, profitable and functioning system. It was by no means perfect and certainly wasn’t efficient, but it worked. I appreciate it worked because it was funded to an extent by the UK taxpayer, but even in hard economic terms, this shift from Government debt to private debt doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Not all debt is equal – Government debt can be long term and at low interest rates. Private debt creates a liquidity trap in times of economic crisis, because individuals seek to reduce their debt and thus don’t contribute to growth, thereby creating more debt. And a nation’s debt is best measured by combining Government debt, financial institutional debt, and personal debt. Shifting it to individuals then doesn’t reduce the overall debt, it just increases the damage it does to your economic outlook.

We’ve seen the tuition gap spreading in the States over the past 15 years or so, Martin. It gets worse as they privatize the student loan sector. Administrative costs rise. Faculty pay is cut. But worst of all, education becomes too expensive first for students to explore, and then too expensive to engage full time. The kicker comes when they ask the universities to re-work the curriculum so that students can finish a four-year degree in three years. Why? To keep the cost down. The cost they created by shifting funding away from student tuition.

And George Siemens publishes an open letter to Canadian Universities detailing their lack of leadership. As opportunities for education are created by Canadian faculty (MOOCs), the leadership turns south, to the US.

Canadian universities are squandering an opportunity to reply meaningfully to Coursera and EDx. I’m aware of at least two major Canadian universities that are negotiating to join Coursera. Why give not develop your own? Why not create an active experiment in a Canadian context that allows you to build your understanding of emerging learning models?

This is just as spooky as needless tuition increases, but to be expected. It’s a signal that MOOCs will be appropriated as a corporate product. They are using the pseudo-MOOC to sneak mass tuition in by the back door.

Leaders, but no leadership. In desparation, I blame the bankers. Black Friday’s comin’ back.

 

pay no more than £2.99, or, let the faculty set the pricing of textbooks

Texts

Back  when I was a student in London and Bristol (c 1979) I found The Specials’s first album at Virgin records with a sticker on it that read

Pay No More Than £2.99

£2.99 was a chunk of change back in the day, but not outlandish. Singles were 70p. A pint of bog-standard IPA was 35p. A loaf of bread 27p. I made £4 for a 7-11 pm work session at the pub. Plus tips – usually half-pints. Plus a three-hour lock-in on Saturday night if the governor’s mates dropped by.  So for an evening’s work, I could buy a ska album, a loaf of bread, and two pints at my local. Life was good. YMMV.

I saw the Pay No More Than stickers on a lot of albums, mainly independent labels for reggae, ska, punk, and new wave. The stickers were a way of keeping distributers (chains, high street shops, street markets, touts outside The Venue and The Music Machine) from putting their own value on works they were distributing. (Billy Bragg kept the gesture alive for some years, apparently.) With the sticker, the band and label was proclaiming that the album is worth £2.99- three hours’s work. An evening’s piss-up. Don’t let the next geezer up the chain say otherwise.

We need stickers like that for textbooks – stickers that the author authorizes, or faculty, who know the value of a textbook, can intervene with. That’s what OER is all about, sure, but there are other texts out there.

I’ve been holding off selecting texts for ENGL 3179: Elements of Electronic Rhetoric, hoping for something earthshattering. The course deals with subject matter that is just coming into being, so there are no texts designed for it yet. I have to piece things together. I’ve been using Making Sense of Messages, Stoner and Perkins, for the past four or five years, but the publisher (Houghton Mifflin – not worth linking to) is charging $90.00 for it – way over the top for students. Used copies are showing up online for $20, but our university bookstore won’t let put up a sign in place of the text reading,

The publisher is charging too much for this book. Buy it used online and pay no more than $25.00. Even better, borrow it from a friend.

Making Sense is a pretty good text, not great, but good, published in 2005, showing its age a little – but easily worth $45. The $20 – $30 used price is a good deal. The rental option, in which students pay the publisher  $45 for a semester’s use is bitter tasting. This is to acknowledge that the book worth only $45, but that the publisher and bookstore are going to take a 100% profit  just for distributing the text. I’m putting publisher rentals in the same category as loan-sharking, which is one notch below pirating software.

The publisher’s price prompts me to rethink content and classroom practice. Making Sense is good in detailing method, but always struck me as pretentious and condescending, and thin in its coverage of classical rhetoric. At $45 I would be willing to overlook the faults. For $90, who needs it? Instead, we can take a little step back in time: I’ll teach the framework of method drawing on my copy of the text (a five year old exam copy), distribute my notes to students electronically, and have students make notes and engage the method in class. A little more work for me, a little more work for students outside of class, but we all become less dependent on the text and the publisher. Pity the authors loose on this one.

But, to continue my story, because I’ll be teaching from the over-priced text rather than have students buy it, I can supplement the class with other texts at more reasonable prices. That’s a cost I can ask students to take on. Here they are for fall, 2011:

Rhetorical Analysis, Longaker and Walker. A little thin on method, example papers simply fill space, but good for introducing rhetorical concepts. Student can work with chapters focused on kairos, style, etc, using the method I’ll provide to apply those concepts to digital target texts. $21.00 Amazon. There’s a Cengage version available, too, but their reader is absolute rubbish.

For a text that bridges from print rhetoric to digital and multimodal texts, I’m using The Discourse of Blogs and Wikis, Greg Myers. This has enough method (What I Did) in later chapters for students to emulate…. $45 Anazon, paper; $36 Kindle.

And as a recommended text, Lanham, Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, 2nd ed. $23 Amazon, $10 Kindle, used for about $10.

Total, about $90.00, but for a far broader range and deeper set of texts. Texts that students can reuse, resell, pass on. It could be done for $45.00.

Last word goes to The Specials. A message to you, publishers.

learning esperanto – or not

Photo from http://www.istockphoto.com/

One of the arguments for standardizing on a CMS such as D2L for DE teaching is this: “Using the same interface for all courses means the student has to learn the interface only once.”  The argument I always used against the CMS has been, “A good interface will be designed to suit the content and task, and the task of D2L is to manage students, not enable students to read, listen, or produce. Get a blog, or a wiki.”

But here’s a better one, from Stephen Downes, in Emergent Learning: Social Networks and Learning Networks.

I understand why someone would say this: “To increase the sustainability of portal projects there is a need to ‘work towards establishing common frameworks that will enable applications and services, from different sources, to work together.'” After all, it is precisely that failure that accounts for the indifferent success of community portals, the ‘field of dreams’ scenario, where you build it, and they do not come. But such an enterprise is perhaps best compared with constructing an artificial language: sure, it would make communication easier if evereyone used the standard – but who speaks Esperanto? The growth of community – and hence, community frameworks – is much more organic than that, a product of multiple simultaneous negotiations to create a network of compatible systems rather than a centralized planning department to create a structure.

This argument is similar to the critiques of the formulaic 5-Paragraph Theme, taught in too many US high schools and even university courses. The problem with the 5-Paragraph Theme is this: It’s an artificial genre, created for high-school classrooms, which no one reads (teachers don’t read 5-paragraph themes; they grade them); the form and the exercise aren’t designed to communicate anything other than “I did your assignment.” I have never assigned these little monsters, but I have read hundreds of them. Even when the form is not assigned, even when students are warned against using it, Good Students drag it out as a default. One-size-fits-all-rhetorical-situations – except it doesn’t. Students have to unlearn this artificial language before they can make any progress in writing.

But here’s what I find a puzzle: Institutions are using D2L – a paragon of walled garden, ivory tower teaching – to deliver “real world” – that is, situated – education. Courses that are pitched as bridging a (purported) gap between classroom and workplace are placed firmly behind the walls of the garden, using the same accoutrements, practices, and channels: see here, and here.

Seriously? Situated teaching and learning using generic CMS tools? Some of my colleagues teach some of these courses – well-meaning people who would argue that they are giving learners choices, providing opportunities – and I suppose they are, kind of. Learners will have the opportunity to learn Esperanto. Or not learn Esperanto. We can do better than this.

Assignment: Carefully re-read Prof Morgan’s argument above. What is Morgan’s thesis? How does he support it? Why? What kind silly, trivial argument is he passing off as thoughtful consideration? What is he really trying to say? Now, write a 5-Paragraph Theme in which you make clear just how mis-guided Morgan is by considering the benefits of standardized interfaces in education today. Pose. Posture. Beg the Question. 500 words. Typed. Double-Spaced.

MOOCs and the stock university course #plenk2010

A first consideration of adapting MOOC techniques to the stock university situation.

Have a look at these notes on Stephen Downes’s presentation.

The more I’m immersed in the PLENK course and material, the more possibilities I see for driving MOOC teaching techniques and approaches into the stock university courses I teach.

For instance, we have new a sophomore level Argument and Exposition course (A&E. Gotta like the double joke in that course title) for learning research practices. Downes’s example of how to find a niche and set up a PLE suggests that I can adapt MOOC practices into a course project. The course wouldn’t be a MOOC (maybe a Minimal Open Online Project), and I would have to evaluate the students in the end. But this approach gives students the opportunity to develop tacit practices – both of research and of the subject they are studying with their PLEs. What they create along the way – the blog posts, delicious links, google feeds, and the artifacts they create and post – along with some periodic reflective posts or discussions, provide plenty of material to evaluate the learner, and plenty of material for my supervisors to evaluate the course.

Students will be on their own when it comes to the kinds of activities they take on, the kind of artifacts they create. They may have to learn how to edit and upload videos, they may have to figure out how to share a scanner, and I can see having to have students create their own support network in for the course itself, but that’s part of the beauty of the thing.

What’s in it for us?

  • Not less instructional time, but both students and I get to spend our instructional time differently than we have for the past bunch of years.
  • Less classroom time and more learning time for students.
  • Less lecture prep time because less lecture and more practice time for all.
  • Students might start to learn what it means – tacitly –  to take control of their own learning. Need to measure this.
  • Relatively safe experience in facilitating a MOOC-like course. The course provides my own scaffolding for a more complex move in the future.
  • If it works, a pretty impressive demonstration of an alternative to using D2L.

What’s needed?

As Stephen mentions, The Daily is vital to the movement and maintaining participation in the course. The Daily motivates. The Daily holds participants accountable. I could probably monitor student feeds in my own google reader account, but I’ll probably have to install gRSShopper on Dreamhost.

What else is needed?

Probably an intensive first week or two in getting students to re-conceptualize how the class will progress, and get them comfortable with the approach. Probably need to survey what kinds of online work students already do and get them comfortable sharing that expertise. Probably have to provide some early support for getting RSS feeds together. Probably have to really work on getting students to take responsibility for their learning, for creating and submitting stuff regularly  – and it needs to be regular so that they have a better chance of passing the final evaluation.

Seems worth it so far.

dangers and rewards of taking it social

Outside The Castle, Walthamstow

I attended the PLENK2010 Elluminate session with Harold Jarche on PKM in the corporate setting. Normally, I stand well clear of anything corporate-setting, figuring a fight will break out sooner or later. But the discussion was good. I’ve beem taking a little more interest in The Enterprise lately because I’m hoping to present my sabbatical work in PLENK2010 not to my academic colleagues but to business and laypeople at BSU’s extension service. Keeping that in mind, I pricked up my ears to what Jarche had to say about the value of PLE/N to business.

Which leads me to a side comment Jarche made in the session. In encouraging learners to use blogging for sense-making and reflection, Jarche mentioned getting outside of the email exchange and into the social arena. He advised, Don’t simply trade emails about a problem back and forth. Make the exchange social so that others can join in.

That tweaked me. For the past week, I’ve been having an email exchange with the newly-appointed Director on the role and character of the Center for Professional Development. My take is that the CPD is doing some of the tasks and training that the administration and ITS should be doing, and that the CPD is confining itself to maintaining the status quo for the administration rather than looking towards faculty innovation. The director argues that handling training and surveys is part of the CPD’s collaboration with the administration. I argue that the CPD is a faculty service and should deliver what faculty need in order to develop professionally, not do inservice training. Rather than collaborate, the CPD should lead, push the administration in the direction the faculty want to go.

At any rate, the email exchange is going nowhere. Bogged down. But I really should have realized that the better way to approach the issue is through a social exchange. Rather than emailing the director my comments, I could have posted them to this weblog, then emailed the link with my comments to her and perhaps others. If I had done that, I would have set the arena as social from the start. And this is, after all, what I try to teach.

So why not go social? In this case, it simply didn’t occur to me. Habit of email. It has to be made clear from the start where the discussion is going to go on. And it’s the same habit of email that has constrained the discussion we’re having to a semi-private exchange rather than a social exchange. I know I would get more – learn more, argue better – by reflecting on the role of the CPD in a social space – and I’d bet the director and my colleagues would get more out of it, too. The exchange becomes more valuable when it is shared socially.

Now, going social rather than using semi-private email can also be seen as a power play, or labeled as inappropriate, and could get me ostracized. It’s risky. Institutions – well, the one I work in –  like to keep what they think of as conflict in-house, like to show a unified face to the world – in spite of the good that a social exchange on, say, the role of a center for professional development might bring to the institution and to others. Moving discussions to the social realm can result in being cut out of the loop. Worse, it can lead to everyone playing close to the vest, saying nothing in fear of having to defend the position – going social means cards on the table, no bluffing, and that’s scary.

Is it worth the risk? Some days I think it is. Other days, I’m not so certain. In any case, the ethos of going social is changing, so we might as well get used to it locally. I’m posting this today with some hope that others on the PLENK2010 course might find it useful – and to strengthen my resolve. Next time the opportunity knocks, I’m taking my discussion social.