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….

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.






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.

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:

To go directly to the online submission form go here:

Use Revisit to Visualize Twitter Conversations & Backchannels

I seem to be on a data visualization kick this week. Yesterday I highlighted the coolness of Many Eyes for text analysis. On the same day one of my favorite tweeps, @ToughLoveforX, shared Revisit, a project by Moritz Stefaner who is a freelance “information visualizer.” As soon as I clicked on Revisit, I was smitten from both my visual data geek tendencies and as an educator.

Stefaner’s Revisit allows you to “see” the connections happening across various Twitter streams and hashtags.  As a professional development provider and educator, Twitter is one of those tools that can take a while for someone to get the gist of (See earlier post on DABEL model for Social Media PD). One of the common complaints I hear from my students and colleagues is that Twitter is so hard to follow. Often I will introduce TweetDeck or Twitterfall (etc), as helpful tools to follow the progression of conversations. Some of my students and workshop attendees will then “get it” a bit more, but there is always a group of visual learners that are really trying to conceptualize the relationships of the tweets; particularly retweets and how people are truly connected. This is where Revisit is particularly powerful.

I did a sample infographic of the #edchat hashtag from 8/7/2010 at 11:30am EST. Click here to interact with this example (give it about 3 seconds to load). Also note, to the right of the Revisit screen, you can also type in your own search terms.

Stefaner comments this as a great way to create a Twitter wall for conferences, offices, and I would propose classrooms as well. Imagine visualizing your backchannel conversations in this way and seeing the connections come to life, as well as visualizing the major influencers  and branches in the dialogue.

Individuals and organizations can download the source code for their own stand alone implementations. Stefaner does note that due to current API limitations the only the tweets from the last 8 days are captured and retweets via the Twitter website are not captured. However, as an immediate infographic and quick analysis tool, it’s very effective. I invite you all to Revisit, and see your Twitter experiences in a new way.

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:

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
Febf5cde-a0f7-11df-b644-000255111976 Blog_this_caption

Branching Diagrams: Learning
11fc8f84-a0fc-11df-9eea-000255111976 Blog_this_caption

Branching Diagram: Teachers
571b88ac-a0fe-11df-92bc-000255111976 Blog_this_caption

The Classic Tag Cloud
Ef35ab4c-a0fc-11df-818c-000255111976 Blog_this_caption

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:
8d50db6a-a0ff-11df-bb34-000255111976 Blog_this_caption

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!

Try the DABEL Model When Offering PD on Social Media

Social Media can be a fun topic to teach educators and colleagues about.  It  is often an overwhelming concept for new users of social media tools to grasp. I think I described this on #edchat the other day as “Social Media is like breathing water to new people.” I’d like to revise that comment to that it probably feels more like a being a fish trying to swim without fins!

I recently gave a lecture/workshop to 32 Ph.D candidates at Lesley University. They were taking a special topics course in new media in scholarship, and I was asked to help them think about using tools like Twitter,  Mendeley,  and social bookmarking sites to assist with their scholarly networking. While at least 3/4 of the class were active Facebookers, people were a bit miffed, and some a tad petrified, about using Twitter.  To get us going, I used my DABEL model which stands for: Deepen Apply Brainstorm Engage and Learn.  In the context of social media and research, I presented the following goals for the afternoon:

  • Deepen our knowledge and understanding of social media
  • Apply social media ideas and concepts to the practice of research and inquiry
  • Brainstorm opportunities for using social media and other digital media tools to strengthen research goals and projects
  • Engage in inquisitive “play” with featured tools (Twitter, Wallwisher, MindMeister, Wordle)
  • Learn new pathways for collaboration and analysis

I find a lot of adult learners are so worried about “screwing up” the computer or looking dumb they are unable to hear about the purpose and potential of technology. Intrinsically, many adults assume they must master a tool before they can use it, as this is how many of us were taught in school (back in ye old dark ages). Setting the tone with DABEL is a great way to  give permission for inquiry, exploration, and play. This also provides a balance on applying known theory and practice, to new media and tools.

After giving the class a couple of videos that presented some thought-provoking stats and commentary, the conversation immediately started rocking. One of the faculty in the room said it felt like driving down the autobahn in a convertible. (I believe this was a compliment.)

I scaffolded our exploration with “easy” tools that I had set up for them in their Blackboard course site. One was a link to wallwiser, where they could post their research questions and topics. This was easy, fun and slightly addictive to a few students. By the time we arrived at Twitter the skepticism was there, but there was openness to consider and try it since they had successfully dabbled in a few previous tools and we engaged in dialogue and brainstorming on how to use them professionally and for school.

Below is the full presentation. I haven’t seen DABEL used before, so  I am claiming it as my own little acronym. Contact me if you’ve seen it. And if you want to use it, great; let me know how it worked and it’s extra nice if you cite this post as your source!

Link to Google Presentation with embedded videos.

Social Scholarship Slide Photo
Image of slide show

The Power of Visualizing Information: Reflections on ed reform

This post talks about how wordle can be used to rethinking and visualize the main ideas of reading. Examples from “A Nation at Risk” and “A Blueprint for Ed Reform” are used.

The amount of blogging time I have is pretty much 0-2% these days.  After work, I devote my idle hours to doctoral studies and family (and sadly in that order some days).

One thing about graduate work is the volume of print reading has not changed since I was in my Master’s program in 98-99. Darn. Synthesizing lots and lots of text quickly is a challenge for anyone.  As a teacher educator,  I am always demonstrating the use of certain tools to help organize and visualize text and data for k12 students.  So wouldn’t it be a novel idea to actually use some myself? I imagine anyone reading this might be saying –well golly yes– you just realized that?

I’ve been using Wordle a bit more to validate (or invalidate) perceptions of readings, especially articles that I have read before and already have formed strong value statements about. In my summer Historical Perspectives on Education course, we were assigned the classic A Nation At Risk report from 1983. I was feeling a bit more sour than usual about ed reform.  Chatter in the online discussion of my course turned to a bit of griping that not much has changed in our reform rhetoric since 1983. After completing a Worlde for #edchat this morning, I began to wonder if perhaps Wordle could help me see and perceive our impressions of a Nation at Risk differently, especially in comparison to a current policy document? If our class believed nothing had changed, we should see more similarities than differences between the two. In my mini-experiment I selected the recommendations section from  A Nation At Risk, and compared it to the recommendations of the recent  Blue Print for Reform for the reauthorization of the ESEA. Here is what happened:

Wordle Recommendations Section from a Nation At Risk (1983)
Wordle: Recommendation section from a Nation at Risk

Worlde Recommendations from a Blue Print for Reform (2009)
Wordle: A Blue Print for Reform --Priorities Summary of ESEA Reauthorization

I haven’t had chance to do a comprehensive analysis of each Worlde. Here are just some quick reactions:

  • That students were the most commonly used word in both reports. While we may not agree with the rhetoric in one or both of the documents, students are clearly at  the center.
  • Support is a huge theme in our current ed reform rhetoric and it was not even on the map in At Risk.
  • A Nation At Risk is  focused on k-12, with emphasis on teachers and students and preparing teachers.
  • Blueprint expands our thinking and focus; administrators and districts are mentioned frequently. Mentions of parents and community also appear.
  • Teachers are integral to both reports. But, the focus on teacher preparation through universities in the At-Risk report is not the core focus of the Blue Print recommendations.
  • Hmmm where did learning go in the Blue Print?
  • In the Blue Print, schooling is focused on preparing us for college, not just successful graduation from high school.
  • At Risk focused on the “Basics” that students need to master.  Standards appear to be our new basics.
  • Content based knowledge mentioned throughout the at risk. New reform rhetoric focused more on accountability and performance.
  • Heavy focus on nationalism in At-risk and national status.

I am glad I did this little exercise. We are inundated with so much information online, I know I am scanning my content more and forming assumptions and opinions quickly. While I didn’t walk away thinking “Wow, we’ve really changed! Reform now is soooo much better,”  it helped me clarify my thinking and even rethink how I approach discussing this with my classmates.  Even though I had read At Risk many times,  there is something intangibly powerful about visualizing the main themes of the text in a new way.  And, because I am not getting any more free time to read,  I did as I tell my teachers to do with their students: I stepped back, utilized a tool designed to assist and enhance  my understanding.

For any readers out there; do you ever Wordle, or use another tool, to help you with our own personal work and learning? This little exercise got me wondering about how often as educators we use the same tools we give our students for our own personal learning and reflection?