Detach thyself from ye olde LMS

So first off, I  seem to be good for about one blog post per year.  Perhaps this is turning into an annual reflection post of  “this is what is on my mind  this year” type  of thing. Maybe someday I’ll up the output to quarterly, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

So about the title of this post.

There is no shortage of writing about the doldrums of LMS technology, and perhaps even the pedagogical oppression that can be brought on by designing courses in these environments. Some of my acquaintances and colleagues have recently penned thought pieces on this topic, including  Adam Finklestein (McGill U) and Mike Goudzwaard’s  (Dartmouth) article featured on EdSurge this month:  The Trouble with Learning Management.” There is also  Mike Goudzwaard’s  personal blog post  on “The LMS of the Future is Yours”.  And of course  there is always the thoughtful and wise Michael Feldstein and his piece,    “What’s Really to Blame for Failures of Our Learning-Management Systems” .

But haven’t we been talking about moving beyond the LMS, for well, um, soon after they were created?   Back in 2011 I was one of the co-creators of NERCOMPs first Unconference/UnSIG. Our focus was the LMS.  The conference came about because a small group of us were working on the annual NERCOMP SIG program for the Teaching and Learning track.  There were so many proposed topics and themes revolving around the LMS that we could have have held a workshop per week on LMSy things. Because that was not an option,  we opted to try the Unconference format to give the community a time to create their own topic tracks and discuss their LMS challenges and needs in small group formats. (Oh, and Michael Feldstein was gracious enough to serve as our opening speaker to get things kicked-off). By the end of the day people felt good, maybe not about their LMS, but that they were not alone in their endeavors. But interestingly it seemed that the LMS was (is) here to stay. We hate it, but we need it.

Living the dream: Life beyond LMS

To that end,  it would appear that my team and I might be getting to “live the dream.” One of our projects allows us to ditch the confines of the campus LMS in favor for something much more organic, personal and custom designed for the program of study and its students.   In fact, building outside of the LMS was the number one requirement put forth by the academic program leadership and faculty and for some sound programmatic reasons.

A commercial LMS presents a certain rigidity for a degree program in computer science (CS), particularly when the discipline itself is about architecting, making and building digital environments.  In some sense, the work of CS is one big digital makerspace and, depending on the LMS, a CS experience in one of these platforms can feel very constrained for the faculty developer and the learner. This is exactly what our CS program is seeking to avoid.

Now sure, we can hack around the LMS to try to bend it to our will. Everyone has been doing this for ages. And we can utilize LTIs when possible and appropriate. But when your hacks and workarounds are the norm in your design, then it’s time to move beyond the LMS. As Mike and Adam point out in their edSurge post,  many courses only really need 20% what is in their LMS. That other 80% of features and what not are often in the way.

That important 20%

So like any good team we did a couple of visioning sessions with the academic program and our instructional design and multimedia team. There were opportunities for post-its and flip chart paper  brainstorming (BTW- can one call their process legitimate without the use of these materials?)  There was a 20 second gut check a5629b7585ecdeb12c3b4acc6d1afb9a5ctivity and a #slack channel set up for dialogue. From all of these I’ve been diligently collecting and documenting requirements to optimally  develop two to three solution scenarios. Because you see, we still need to build this in or on something. Is it straight up HTML? Is it WordPress? Is it….. an open LMS platform?  (Stay tuned for the big reveal, which I guess will be next year’s blog post… )

To help us get there we  have been wireframing/mocking up some scenarios based on feedback. The initial wireframes, even incorporating some non LMS design inspirations, started to look like, well a LMS. Without the benefit of more graphical representation,  a black and white wireframe of core functions looked a bit like a Blackboard template. #Designfail?  I couldn’t help but poke fun at this and said -Fantastic! We’ve recreated our campus LMS, except perhaps it will be prettier.

I am no spring chicken in this industry and have endured my fair share of LMS selections, migrations and course builds in and outside of commercial LMS platforms. I looked at one of the IDs and wondered aloud if we are so attached to the paradigm of an LMS that it’s hard to break free even when we are given an absolute blank canvas? Perhaps.  Or does the basic core requirements of running a course digitally (FERPA stuff, authentication, etc), heck even an entire program of study, really mean someone just needs to make a simple LMS, of the organic, free range variety? Or maybe a generic label -remember the 70s and those generic white label foods? Maybe we just need that….

5_dharma_food
Your basic, no frills LMS

 But wait, I guess that might be the equivalent of open source, and we have those right? (Moodle, Sakai and now OpenEdx). But yet, there is still complexification in implementing a open source solution that still does not feel nimble and light. 

So as you can see, I am puzzling through this very openly here. The generic label thing probably takes this conversation a bit too far. But by Friday I need to present three possible scenarios for which to build the first two courses.  And as I prepare these I guess I am struck by no matter how much disruptive technological innovation and pretty website design is out there, our field can often miss the mark on acknowledging the importance of the most elemental needs of delivering sound learning. I am not suggesting the LMS of today gets it right, but it started from a very simple place. Now how to get back to that core while not diminishing the possibilities.

 

 

 

 

 

Fab Find: Reviving this blog with help from Scoop.it

A spring filled with an extra serving of doc coursework (it seemed like a good idea at the time)  and a busier than usual  family spring sports calendar has resulted in a few unanticipated outcomes;  more take out for dinner,  an increased reliance on Amazon Prime for mundane shopping needs and a very sad looking blog.

Yet  thanks to Scoop.it, I now can easily, and  efficiently, share my “Fab Finds” via Twitter, WordPress,  Facebook etc. all while being a curator for my own personal content collections.   I come across many Fab Finds each week, but the publishing of these have suffered.  I’ve been wanting an easier way to quickly share and item without compromising quality within the post.  Scoop.it makes it easy for anyone to publish a link to multiple social media sites while organizing them nicely for continued reference and sharing.

I know Scoop.it isn’t the first site out there to claim such wonderful powers, however Scoop.it is the first site for me that adds some zip into my daily work of mining the interwebs on a variety of Ed Tech, eLearning, k12 and higher education related content.

When you create collections Scoop.it attempts to find additional sites  based on the tags you have assigned to your topics. This is a well-intended feature but not its strength. The power is in the Scoop.it bookmarklet that you place on your browser bar so you can scoop as you go. If you are looking for a curating resource that has a powerful and  accurate,social search,  I recommend Storify. 

Scoop.it is in beta, but I did receive my invite in less than 12 hours upon requesting one.  Check it out today!

5 Presentation Tools for the Online & Face-to-Face Classroom

From EdTech Diva on Flickr

Here are five sites that each offer a specific purpose and tool set for your face-to-face or online presentation needs. From the most basic (showing an image), to the more sophisticated (multimedia mashups), all of these sites can be used by students and instructors to effectively convey content and foster engagement.

Keeping It Basic

Drop Mocks works with your Google account and is perhaps the simplest tool I’ve seen yet. All you do is just drag your  image file on to the web browser screen and…. viola!  Your presentation is born. If you don’t think anything is that easy, just watch this demo. Each Drop Mock generates a URL for easy sharing.  I appreciate the simplicity and recommend Drop Mocks when you need to create an image-based slide show on the fly. Also, this is a fairly easy tool for young children to use too.

At this time, Drop Mocks only works in the latest versions of Google Chrome or Firefox 4. Also, you can only use common image file formats such as jpg, png, gif, and tiff.  Each drop mock generates a URL for easy sharing, but no embed codes at this time. Despite this, it’s still pretty easy and slick.

Moving Beyond Slides

Prezi was the belle of the ball in 2010 and it seems everyone is still buzzing about this alternative presentation tool. This Prezi ,created by Adam Somlai-Fischer, is both a great prezi example that explains how Prezi’s are different than traditional slideshows. Overall, Prezi allows you to break a way from bulleted text and sequential viewing of your slides. You can still use images (and bulleted text) and you can even embed video.  If you work best brainstorming and organizing with mind maps, then Prezi may feel very fluid and natural to you.

Check out this Learning to Play Math Prezi to get a feel of the potential of Prezi.

Media Mashups Made Easy

I did a review of VuVox last week (full review here). In summary,  VuVox lets you do a lot, without needing a lot of high-tech know-how. Students and teachers can generate impressive multimedia collages and panoramas of their work.  VuVox can easily import RSS feeds, and your photo collections from Flickr, Picasa, and Smug Mug.  Add soundtracks and annotate your creations with comments and links to other websites. I find at its core, you can do a lot with VuVox , whether its making a static presentation, or creating interactive content. View an example from the NIHF STEM School in Akron, Ohio or one about Second Life.

Amplify Your Existing Slides

myBrainShark is the individual, free version, of the Brainshark product suite. Brainshark allows you to upload PowerPoints, MS Word documents, and pictures that you can then narrate and share with friend, co-workers, students, etc (you get the point). The site also provides a podcast and video recording option too.  And….drum roll please, you can add your Prezi into Brainshark too. Brainshark is a  great option if you are looking to personalize and add audio to your work, but do not require responses or audio feedback from your viewers. This is an excellent tool for students to generate presentations in as well. Presenters can even record audio by calling in on their phones. The downside: to use the free version you must leave your content  viewable to the public.

Engage and Interact

I describe VoiceThread as an “audio/visual discussion board.” I often turn to Voicethreads when needing to facilitate discussion about a topic. This is a favorite site for educators desiring a way to create more engagement, interaction, and feedback on academic work. This is also an excellent tool for students to present their own content and solicit feedback.

Unlike the previous examples, Voicethread really is a service that you load your pre-designed content into (usually developed in PowerPoint, but PDFs, image files, documents, and movie files). So while you are not authoring content from scratch in Voicethread, you are using Voicethread to enhance the learning experience by engaging viewers in direct conversation and interaction throughout the piece. Because of its audio and video features, many people forget that Voicethread is a not live broadcasting tool. Comments are recorded and listened to at the viewers convenience. Voicethreads can be made public or private, making this a great choice in the education community.  Some excellent examples include of Voicethread include:

Digital Writing Workshop

Picture Writing (K-3 example)

Voicethread on Integration of Voicethread in Online Learning

Voicethread Integrating SmartBoard Images

There are many, many, more presentations tools to consider. While this posting was more focused on visual and interactive options, other educator favorites include Google Presentation (part of Google docs) and Slideshare for posting Powerpoints for viewing.  In the next year expect to see some new releases  that blend social media features into the presentation experience. I am particularly looking forward to testing Storify.

This Verizon Customer is Sticking With Her Droid (for now)

Before I launch in to explaining myself, a disclaimer;

I am not a wireless expert, a mobile phone operating system guru, nor a pundit on the topic of mobiles.  I have been buying Apple products for 15 years now and a fan of their design. I am just an everyday user of technology.

Okay, now to the explaining.

When the  iPhone first arrived years ago I had a severe case of gadget envy, even though I don’t fancy myself as a gadget geek.  Yet a prior, very negative experience with AT&T, kept me from taking the plunge . No amount of awesomeness was going to sway me to switch. And besides, Verizon (especially at the time of the iPhone launch) had a much superior network for my travel needs.  The pragmatist in me also knew that it was likely that Verizon and the other companies would launch products to compete with the iPhone,  as this is the cycle of innovation and tech.

Instead, I received a first generation iTouch which mostly addressed my  iPhone pangs. Because I spend most of my time in wireless environments, I could essentially use the iTouch as I would an iPhone (well except for the talking, but who really talks these days on their phones?).  I downloaded the common apps to try.  As an experiment, I even used my iTouch through most of the ISTE10 conference this past summer (with the exception of the keynotes where the wireless was laggy and bad).

While I embraced my iTouch, I also upgraded to a Motorola Droid as it was the most reasonable option for my needs. It had some similarity to the iPhone/iTouch. And, as the title of this post suggests I love it.  I love both really, but as a handheld computer/phone/multipurpose device I really appreciate the Droid OS design and ability to multitask. If there is anything that drives me a bit batty on the iPhones/iTouches, and iPads (our household has one of these too) is that they are at their best when you are single tasking.  I realized I expect my smart phone to do more than one thing at time and  do it well. All things I find with my Droid. And also, when you get down to it, most of the popular, common apps are the same across the platforms. I don’t really feel like I am using something that is soooo different.

Now Apple fans I know you may take me to task, and that’s fine. Please refer back up to my disclaimer.  This is just one consumer’ s point of view. But I do find this iPhone v. Droid business a bit apples to oranges some days.  The iPhone is the device + plus the OS. The Droid OS is available on a variety of devices (and providers); so as user you can choose a touch screen only experience (like iPhone) or select devices that utilizes the pullout keyboard (BTW -When I got the Motorola Droid I thought I would use the keyboard more. I barely touch it, probably because I am so used to using touch screen on my iTouch).  For a Droid customer you can choose the device that you are most comfortable using. So when I am talking about the iPhone I am really thinking software, I am not thinking about physical phone design itself.

So I wonder, after the iPhone/Verizon hype dies down a bit, how many Droid/Blackberry/Windows OS folks who switch to the iPhone ultimately end up going back to what they had? It’s just something to think about.  For me, I could use either, but after having my Droid I am not sure that I have a compelling reason to switch (yet).  The iPhone OS 4 is not that big of change from the previous version (or so I am told by experts and friends).  If that’s the case, I am going to continue enjoying what I have.

Of course I do realize there is a whole status thing of having an iPhone.  As an educator, I think of all the girls that came back after the Xmas/New Years break with their brand new Uggs. Ugg knock-offs might provide the same cozy warmth (function) and similar style, but they still are not an Ugg. I can see where there is parity in the mobile phone realm that we will sacrifice a bit of function for the perfect or envied form. And for many Verizon customers that alone is worth the plunge because we have been waiting so long to make it to the cool kids table (and there is nothing wrong with that).

As I approach middle age I am bit more of a pragmatist on things. And I don’t see the Droid OS as a knock-off either.  I think it is a solid piece of  software that I hope continues to innovate, especially as Verizon now offers pretty much every mainstream mobile OS to its customer base. The competition will be interesting and fierce (I hope).

But this brings me to me last thought. Wouldn’t it be swell to get the nice physical design of the iPhone that could run the mobile OS of your choice?  Hahahahaha, that’s a good laugh but I can dream can’t I?

Mashups & Media Literacy, Part I

In essence, I think the mashup is a compelling example of why media literacy should be an essential part of education (k-12 and higher education.) As educators create and share digital resources for use in the classroom, we have the opportunity to model best uses and create some effective mashups of our own. Also our students are creating more and more of their own digital content and a mashup can be an excellent project.

A couple of years ago I remember getting asked a lot about mashups. What were they? How do you make one?  Now, in 2011,  mashups are commonplace on the web. Yet this does not mean we (the everyday web surfer) is more cognizant of what mashups are all about.  So I decided to dust off one of my earlier attempts at explaining the basic mashup (see below) as I find it a relevant, evolving media form.

Mashup Image of women with blender
from librarian.net

Most of the time you might not even realize a website you are browsing might really be a  blend of  different apps and content being brought together for a seamless experience. This is could be considered a classic mashup. When you get down to it, isn’t your iGoogle page a type of mashup?

There are some amazing creations that come from mashups,  especially with music and video. This is where mashups can be controversial and the intellectual property and copyright is tricky to navigate. (For more on IP and copyright I recommend teachingcopyright.org) In essence, I think the mashup is a compelling example of why media literacy should be an essential part  of education (k-12 and higher education.) As educators create and share digital resources for use in the classroom, we have the opportunity to model best uses and create some effective mashups of our own. Also our students are creating more  and more of their own digital content and a  mashup can be an excellent project.

Below is the first part of a posting I wrote back in 2008 for my department’s blog on introducing the basic concept of the mashup to newbies.  Look for part II on creating mashups  tomorrow.

Understanding the Mashup -Part I

We’ve received a few inquires this fall about what mashups are and how they might be used in a course. The origin of the mashup is rooted in the music industry where people bring together instrumentation and vocal tracks from different songs to create a new song. Listen to an example of the classic Petula Clark song Downtown merged with the current Russian band t.A.T.u’s Not Gonna Get Us to form the new song Not Gonna Get Us Downtown.

The technical definition of a mashup refers to a website that brings together features, functions, and content of different websites into one tool or page. So essentially, a mashup is something that has been created from many other existing things to form a uniquely new thing, usually a piece of media or website.

Still scratching your head? That’s okay, so was I when I started reading more about mashups. The terminology and definition can seem more cumbersome than actually experiencing a mashup. Once you see one, you begin to realize that mashups are all around us. Here are some examples:
  • Flicker Sudoku – http://flickrsudoku.com/ The perfect site for sudoku fans and Flicker users alike, this site allows you to play sudoku with other members of the Flicker site, while pulling in content and sudoku boards from other sites. You experience the site as a normal, single webpage. In actuality it’s a site made of many sites and features.
  • Weather Bonk -http://www.weatherbonk.com/ Weather bonk is an interactive map pulling data from the National Weather Service, Google Maps, and other media sources. The site provides an interactive map of your region which gives you real-time weather, traffic, and sometime visual/image data. At same time, the site is very graphically busy and can be an example of the downside of the mashup.

Video Mashups
Video mashups are abundant. YouTube features many of them, and they are popular creations on comedy shows like the Daily Show. In an election year the variety and numbers of video mashups are vast. Below is a clip produced by an individual that was posted on YouTube. Notice the variety of images and clips ranging from Hillary Clinton speaking, a Nike ad runner, infused with George Orwell’s 1984:

Part II: How do I create a Mashup?
Basic mashups do not require expensive computer equipment or software. The most important resource in mashup creation is creativity and to keep in mind to start simple and build from there. In the next posting we will talk more about how to build a mashup using basic tools like PowerPoint.

RFP Lesley University Academic Technology Institute January 19th

14th Annual Academic Technology Institute Request for Proposals

Each year I run an internal Technology & eLearning Institute for Lesley faculty and academic staff. This year we are  want to open it up to regional presenters from other Boston schools and educational organizations.  Below is our RFP and link to apply to present at the Institute.  Presenters get free registration. We are unable to support transportation costs, etc.

The Institute provides three session formats -A traditional presentation, a BYOL (bring your own laptop) for skills training or how-to’s and a digital poster session. Digital poster sessions are like traditional posters, except we provide you a data projector for you to display your work.  Traditional posters are also welcome.

If you have any questions please contact me at rpeterse [at] lesley [dot] edu.

RFP  Guidelines and Submission Form

Faculty and Academic Administrators and educators from the broader community are invited to submit proposals to present at Lesley’s 14th Annual Academic Technology Institute to be held on Wednesday, January 19th from 9am-4pm in University Hall. The day will feature a variety of sessions ranging from traditional presentations, to hands-on demonstrations, to digital poster sessions. Please consider sharing your work, whether it is a specific assignment from a course, or perhaps research you are currently engaged in.

Some examples of presentation topics and formats include:

  • Innovative uses of media and technology in teaching and scholarship
  • Teaching and learning with mobile devices
  • Fostering engagement, collaboration, and communication with/through technology
  • Multimedia/Video/Digital Storytelling
  • Exploration of trends in social media
  • Assessment and reflection using digital media
  • Next Generation and Millennial Learning Needs and Styles
  • Poster presentations on research or teaching related to the use of digital media or instructional uses of media in face-to-face, hybrid, and online environments

Presentations may be as a group or individual. Presenters will select one of the following presentation formats to share:

  • Traditional Concurrent Session: These are presentations or discussions of a topic or concept (60 minutes).
  • Bring Your Own Laptop (BYOL): These are presentations that encourage hands-on exploration of specific websites or tools. Participants will bring their own laptops to participate.
  • Digital Poster Session: Presentations held at the end of the day, in a poster-style format, utilizing projection and traditional mediums to present a concept, idea, or specific piece of work and research
  • We might be able to offer one or two Skyped-in or Elluminate presentations. If you are interested in this option, please contact me directly to discuss.

The full RFP and Guidelines are available here: http://lesley.edu/elis/ati/ati2011/rfp.html

To go directly to the online submission form go here: http://tinyurl.com/ati2011proposals

Use Many Eyes for Text and Data Visualization

I am attending the Personalized Learning Symposium (#perLearn on Twitter) in Boston, MA this week. Today’s first group breakout session asked us to describe the qualities and characteristics that make a personalized learning environment.  At the completion of the conversation, one thing remained clear -we have a lot of ideas but no clear consensus. The lexicon for personalized learning is still developing.

I asked Molly McCloskey, Manager of Whole Child Programs at ASCD, and convener in the Bartlett Room breakout session, to email me the collected table notes to see if I could create visualizations from our words. My goal is straightforward:  can we see immediate  patterns and connections from our combined words?  I usually use Wordle for some instant feedback. The result was okay, but didn’t make this diffuse topic any clearer.  So I turned to IBM’s Many Eyes site which allows multiple visualization types (including Wordle).  Here are the results:

Classic Wordle:
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The next three are a series of branching diagrams showing the connection of one word, to many thoughts & phrases. As you view these diagrams click on some of the words and see what happens.

Branching Diagrams: Students
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Branching Diagrams: Learning
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Branching Diagram: Teachers
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The Classic Tag Cloud
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Many Eyes is also capable of creating data driven visuals using specific word counts to create a variety of relationship diagrams.  I pulled the master word count list out of Worlde to generate an example of one of these options. For this to truly work, I need to go in a clean up all the “is, a, the, of , ands”…well you get the point.

Bubble Plot Example:
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For me the clear winner was the branching diagrams for this exercise. What is really great is that you can type different words into the textbox to see if they can be mapped.  Many Eyes is a free service and works simply by cutting and pasting your text into a basic text box. From there you can create interesting visuals for your data analysis. Do I dare say its a tad bit personalized?  Enjoy!