Talking Design with Designers

Day before yesterday my colleague, Allan Gyorke, and I gave a talk to the Instructional Design and Development group at the Penn State World Campus related to Digital Expression. It is a talk I’ve done before and it really focuses on the platforms PSU has been working to deliver for the last 18 months or so. The talk frames the need by looking relatively deeply at the changing characteristics of our undergraduate resident population — they are very mobile, very smart, and very plugged into social spaces (read, Facebook). I use a bunch of PSU statistics gathered by our assessment team as well as numbers from the Pew Internet and American Life Project team.

After the warm-up I tend to dive into the tools we are highlighting — Blogs at Penn State, Podcasts at Penn State, Wikis at Penn State, as well as the Digital Commons initiative and a few others. What made this conversation different was the fact the audience was a group of instructional designer and technologists — certainly a fun group to talk to. I was struck by how interested most of them seemed to be in the tools and how willing they were to discuss how we might think about using them. I was also struck by how excited many of them got as we continued to talk. It was a very fun hour and a half … it left me thinking two things — I would very much like to spend more time with groups of interested designers who are in the midst of creating lots of learning spaces and that I have now done this presentation for about a dozen audiences at Penn State but have failed to deliver it to my own staff. That last point hit me last night as I sat on the back patio with a glass of wine — talk about having one of those reality check, “duh” moments. That is obviously something I have to do.

The thing about the talk is that it really tries to define one of my core strategies — enabling opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to engage in the art of digital expression within the context of higher education. One of my goals is to create a platform that provides for supported use of digital tools to not only enhance teaching and learning, but that can creep into everyday life. The other thing it does is illustrates how quickly we are all moving … two years ago these platforms didn’t exist in a coherent way on our campus. The talents of many people have made it a reality.

At any rate, my slides are available as a PDF — it is big. I have learn how to shrink these things down a bit! I’d love to talk more about this with any of you.

iTunes U Tuesdays – Live from ETS

Chris Millet is managing the Podcast at Penn State project for us and is doing a great job!  Last week he decided that he would create a new podcast show that would highlight new and interesting content going on in the Penn State on iTunes U space.  So with that in mind he took a little time and cranked out the first of the weekly series.  Now into its second week it seems Chris is getting the model down.  If you are interested, go on and click the link.  You will be taken into the open part of Penn State on iTunes U.  Let me know what you think.

Podcasting in Scranton, PA

I got an email from our CIO last night pointing me to a short article in the Scranton Times Tribune highlighting faculty use of podcasting for educational purposes. Nice to see that our faculty and staff at Penn State Worthington are getting some positive press for their efforts. The article is short, but does a nice job of explaining podcasting. Since Scranton is the home to the Office, it just makes it all the better.

When we set out to do things University-wide, we want to make sure we are really thinking beyond University Park. This is a nice piece of evidence of that approach.

iTunes U and ID3 Tags

We are getting closer and closer with our iTunes U implementation here at PSU.  We are a little late with it all, but will have a nice sized pilot for the Fall semester.  As we discovered last Spring, faculty are very interested in being able to protect their podcasts so only their students can see/hear them.  I wonder how much of this is thinking based on the years of LMS/CMS utilization?  At any rate, iTunes U gives us the option of making content open to the world, closed to a specific class, and a few other options in between.  It should make for an interesting pilot.

One thing we are doing as we get ready to open the doors is collect existing content from all sorts of sounrces all over campus.  We are talking to both Colleges and Administrative Units to make sure our iTunes U space doesn’t open as an empty shell.  It is actually a very good process as it requires us to go out and touch all corners of the University in an effort to get the best digital media out there.  Pulling in content has posed an interesting challenge however …

What we are discovering is that iTunes U uses the ID3 meta data for naming once you have completed uploading a file.  This makes it a pain as very few people actually attach meta data to the file before they hand them to us.  So once they hit the iTunes U space they have ugly file names and we can’t alter meta data once it is in there.  This has created an extra step in the process that is annoying to say the least — it requires us t obounce out of iTunes U, then import the files into iTunes itself to first add meta data, then locating the edited version, then renaming it, then returning to iTunes U, then going through the iTunes U form based upload process … it isn’t fun.

So, the big question I have is what is the best way to edit these tags without using iTunes?  Are there tools people are using to do this?

iTunes U List

Enhanced Podcasts in iTunes

As things are heating up in the Podcasts at Penn State project more and more faculty are starting to create podcasts for the fall semester.  Chris Millet has been spending an hour with all the faculty who request a consultation and many times these meetings end with a trip to the Faculty Multimedia Center within ETS.  The FMC has already started working with a handful of faculty to create some great content … most of it so far has been created using ProfCast so the audio syncs with the slides from PowerPoint or Keynote.  The faculty are excited and other than a few very small issues with software and hardware the FMC team is happy with the results.

One thing we are really starting to notice as a major drawback to iTunes is its inability to play an enhanced podcast the way we think it should.  Everything plays great on screen, the chapters work, and you can watch the slides update in the tiny little album artwork window.  That last point is the kicker … first of all that window is so small it isn’t worth looking at slides on it … if you do resize it you end up altering the way most people really use iTunes the other 18 hours or so a day.  Apple lets you click the window and get a nice fullsize view … great, other than it does not refresh with the podcast.  This is putting us in a little bit of a bind.

One of our primary goals from the get go was cross platform playback (no iPod required) … we thought iTunes is a cross platform tool so we’d be in great shape … the fact that a student cannot sit down and listen and watch an enhanced podcast on their machine is crazy.  We need to have that artwork refresh.  Chris and I are even discussing what it would take to create our own player … sounds like a real pain.  Has anyone found a work around for this feature?

iTunes Refresh
Notice the little window has moved on …

Planning to Plan

For those of you have been around this blog for a while (I can see all four of you out there!), you know that I was/am part of the original Apple Digital Campus group. Back in the day, Apple invited five Universities to help them think about what the digital campus environment might look like in the coming years. All five of us brought a very interesting perspective to the party and we had a great time figuring out what we did, why Apple selected us, and how we could help one of the most creative and educationally grounded companies on the planet think about the higher education landscape.

One of the things we decided to do are the ADC Leadership Institutes. I have gone to two of them over the last few years … the first, and my favorite so far, was put on by the people at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism (I did the wrap-up talk)… the second, was at Harvard where I was just a participant and spent the week with Kyle Peck thinking about what our event was to look like.

We’ve been trying for over a year to organize one here at Penn State. With two false starts we are close to finding a date that will actually work. We are thinking early March instead of the November date we’ve been working towards. Today, I was lucky enough to go offsite with three of the smartest people I get to hang around with (Kyle Peck, Carla Zembal-Saul, and Scott McDonalad … BTW, when are they going to start blogging?) — all of them are in the College of Education and all three share a real passion for teaching, teachers, and innovation.

We had scheduled this meeting before our planning committee decided to focus on March, so there wasn’t as much of a sense of urgency — just an opportunity for an informal planning session. We didn’t get the whole thing worked out, but there was a block of about 30 minutes or so where we went off on a real directed brainstorming session … I think the foundation for our event was in there.

It isn’t completely clear to me, but if we can somehow focus on the notion of transforming the higher education landscape so that we urge people to balance the needs/expectations of students with an instructor’s educational goals we’ll be successful. We want to expose people to all sorts of interesting things without making the whole thing solely about emerging technologies … you know, try to also emphasize there are really good things we should be doing in our classrooms and that the right technology choices can help us get there.

I am thinking/hoping we’ll be planning our event in the open — either here at this site, or at another open space. I’d like for a community to develop around this thing so that we can get closer to hitting the mark. Any ideas and thoughts to share?

Back to Blogging at a Big University

Even as I am neck deep in a podcasting and iTunes U implementation here at PSU, I am gearing up for the next BIG project for us. That project is figuring out how to create a platform can support all sorts of web-based content production — I had written a post about when is a blog not a blog that seemed to get quite a few people thinking and talking here at my campus and beyond. The big thing that we have started to really explore and explain is that the tools that support this whole blogging thing really have the power to support a lot of what is going on on our campuses. Let’s see, ePortfolios? Yep. Blogs? Obviously. Personal note taking? Sure. What else? Well, anything that relies on faculty, staff, or students creating and publishing content.

Just yesterday I was lucky enough to be in a meeting with an amazingly open-minded faculty member who was asking for a blog platform to support his writing course. No problem … but, the big thing here is that we were joined by the people who actually support enterprise applications on my campus — you know the smart guys who think in terms of 100 thousands users and routinely deliver. They were there and it made me think bigger about what we can do to offer a single solution to a single faculty member with a tiny class (25 students) that would teach us about how we could scale to say 5,000 faculty and 80,000 students.

If you look back at some of the requirements we were looking at a few months ago the last time the blog team got together, not much has changed. It still needs to stand up to the pounding that an application like this will get on a big campus — but now we are thinking a whole lot about building a platform that enables all the things we need. We are going to try and build some sort of personal content management solution that can support blogging, portfolios, personal web pages, resumes, syllabi, you name it. Call it what you will, but in my mind we are attacking a paradigm shift here — I am looking to tear down the WYSIWYG tool du-jour domination on our campus. What we want is a space that empowers people to think about content, information architecture, self expression, and self-reflextion instead of how do I do that with DreamWeaver, then SFTP it, and then … see what I am saying? It is time to move to the next level.

What I am planning to do is task several smaller, more focused groups to look at the needs behind ePortfolios, behind personal note taking spaces, behind personal website tools, and so on. We’ll then roll those requirements up to the larger PCM Platform team and start constructing a solution. We have a starting platform in mind that I think can really get us close “out of the box,” but we’ll see.

As we started to talk, it became clear that we can create a handful of custom apps that will glue our solutions together to create all sorts of novel solutions. If students are publishing into their personal webspaces, then we’ll have to find innovative ways of pulling content into other locations. Here’s an example … if a class is blogging, but they are doing it into their personal spaces, the faculty member will want to aggregate every student’s post into a single class blog that she can control and manipulate as if it were a multi-user blogging environment itself. That is where we build.

I know this is a rambling mess, but my thoughts are still coming together. As they develop, I will share more. Any thoughts for me so far?

iMixes for Education

Not too long ago I blogged about a great research briefing on how social preference was going to change the way people decided on and purchased songs in the eWorld. Tonight while chatting with Chris Millet, I started wondering how an iMix would work as a digital reading/watching/listening list … I think it is time to add a new question to the list.

New question to think about … can/do iMixes work in an iTunes U space? Are they exposed as links just like songs and podcasts? Would be great if it worked that way … I tried creating an iMix with video, podcasts, and a PDF file from the iTunes Podcast Directory and I got the message below:

iMix Sorry

Not promising, for now. If I could quickly create a playlist that turn into an iMix that can be easily linked in an iTunes U space I could do quite a bit. I did try exposing a URL from one of my iMixes and it seemed to work. See for yourself. At the end of the day, this could be a feature that could make this space even more promising.