Open Design Questions without Answers

I am beginning to think that “May is Think Open Month” for me … obviously thinking about openness is something that has been in the middle of my head for the last several weeks. The trip to the Berkman@10 event pushed me very hard to evaluate the things I feel are important to me as I do my work — as an administrator, teacher, and person. I have be reevaluating many of the descions I’ve made over the last few years in my work and I think for the most part I’ve been consistent in my push for openness … I’m not always able to be moving in that direction, but for the most part I have spent the last few years thinking very critically about the interplay between identity, community, and deisgn as it realtes to openness. The events of the last month have only served to push me further down the path to look even more critically at how I can impact change at my Institution and beyond to embrace a collective voice as it relates to moving to a more open perspective.

I’m not thinking about open courseware, open (unfiltered) ranting, or other more disruptive concepts … no, I am thinking more about how openness should be built into the design process. Not really instructional design per say, but design in general … in my mind learning design is looking at the notion of building learning opportunities in a more broad sense than more strict instructional systems design. I am interested in what happens when we (designers) give up a majority of the control and let our communities come in and particpate in a more holistic sense. Would chaos emerge if we didn’t control the learning design process, just enabled it through new governance models (unfortunate term as it feels very controlling), new methodologies for encouraging open participation, and open access to tools? I am thinking seriously about what it would look like to convince a department that we should embark on a new approach to knowledge capture … a wikipedia approach that places the emphasis on the community to create the reification of knowledge as they see fit. What would that look like?

I am seriously considering proposing to teach a new course this Fall (I know it sounds crazy) with a focus on exploring open design … maybe doing it in the context of creating discipline specific knowledge by the community. I don’t know what College this works in, but clearly the College of Education or the College of Information Sciences and Technology would be prime targets for this. This is not fully baked (as I thought of it about an hour ago as I mowed the lawn), but my goal would be to turn over the design of the articulation of knowledge to the community. Let the students work to determine what we should capture and how to do it — furthermore, let them explore how to encourage a larger community involvement in that task as well. I see a wiki sitting in the middle with a discipline specific outline in it … each major item in the outline is an article stub that teams of students would work to complete. I wonder if they could create articles that could stand up to the scrutiny of a group of faculty reviewers? I wonder if the illustration of a project like this would tip the scales towards a more bottom up curricular knowledge creation perspective? I wonder if it would produce any interesting outcomes?

Lots of questions, but as with most new half-baked concepts questions often are the only things to guide us. I have no idea if any of this would work, but after reading about some great examples of faculty pushing students to craft complete knowledge destined for wikipedia, I am fairly certain the mechanics could work. So at the end of the day I am interested in seeing if a few of my questions could be answered:

  • Can you ask a loosely joined group to work together in a distributed way to construct a concrete example of expressed discipline specific material?
  • Would the work of a small class encourage participation from outside the class?
  • Could the resulting articles be valuable enough that they could form the basis for some other curricular activities? In other words, would they hold up to the standard set forth by more traditional eLearning content creation approaches?
  • Would Colleges or Departments invest the time of the expertise at the top (faculty) to form some sort of domain specific governance (oversight) committee to help ensure quality content from the community?
  • Would studnets participating in a course like this gain enough through the creation of small pieces of content? In other words, the course would have to be about open design, not a specific curricular goal.

With my las bullet I think I captured what I really want — I want to spend 15 weeks with a small group of smart students investigating what open design means and how we could all learn to apply what we learn to novel challenges. Should I do it? Who wants to help?


I have talked about Twitter many times here, but I am continually amazed at its overall staying power. This semester provided me with some new observations as it relates to Twitter … I thought I’d take a minute and share two of them.

The first thing I was amazed with in my Disruptive Technologies for Teaching and Learning class was how powerful the community felt because of the constant connectedness. Twitter was “assigned” as a technology we would investigate — at the outset, we got lots of the typical “Twitter is stupid” comments … that was expected. After a couple of weeks however we saw an interesting thing happening — people connected and used Twitter to build stronger bonds. Again, that was expected and I wrote about it here at the time. What wasn’t expected was how Twitter formed the most powerful back channel I have been a part of in a learning environment. I am not a Twitter junkie — some days I actually don’t even update — but I do check it quite a bit to see what is up. This semester one of the most essential components of the course was Twitter and our students’ use of it during class. I found myself refreshing constantly as we sat and discussed things to see what people were thinking about in the moment. Some of the best pointers to related resources emerged in the Twitter stream — people talking about things and others instantly sharing links to them created a much richer course experience. I didn’t find it distracting and I can only assume by watching the ones participating that it had the same effect on them. The ability to instantly share new insights to those connected was simply astonishing. I am not doing the experience justice with this post on any level.

The second observation has to do with Twitter’s inherent goal of dragging you into a stream of thought from your contacts. What I mean is that the design of Twitter is built around the assumption that I would actually care what someone else is up to. Sure, we use it to spout off and embellish strange details of our own lives, but the real power is that we also sit around and read what our Twitter stream is sharing with us. Again, the simple ability to follow others creates new connections. When I compare it the blog community I spend time in it is very different — not because of the length of the posts per say, but because of the intensity of the connections — my Twitter page is my personal gathering place for my community. Again, I am having trouble articulating this. Let me try to simplify … I can’t read all of my friends’ blogs, look at the their Flickr photos, or check their links the same way — aggregation into a reader just doesn’t provide the same joy that the Twitter stream seems to.

I tried out TweetWheel this morning to see my Twitter connections … I am amazed that when I look at the intense connections that have been created via my Twitter stream I am simultaneously struck with the fact that I cannot easily visualize my RSS feed subscribers the same way. It leaves me feeling like I am writing to no one (or perhaps only myself) here in the blog while when I type in Twitter I instantly know who is getting the post. Just take a look at the image below and tell me that it doesn’t make you feel really good about making and following new connections … I have seen that power first hand — organizationally, professionally, at conferences, and now in a classroom.


What to Write About? Flickr Video?

It has been a week since I’ve written and I am still struggling with what to share … I find myself in a bit of a post Symposium holding pattern with things. I can’t seem to pull it together. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that here at PSU we are in SRDP time. The SRDP is the staff review and development plan that is done with all staff every year. So I have been spending tons of time reviewing people’s plans and trying to be very thoughtful in sharing feedback and providing organizational direction for my direct reports. Let me just say that while it is a critical task, it is both time consuming and takes most of my mental energy to complete.

I do want to mention how interested I am in the Flickr Video announcement from the other day. I am very interested in it because of its limitations to tell you the truth — I am very curious if the 90 second time limit will push people to be more thoughtful with their video posts … much like Twitter pushes us to express our feelings in 140 characters bursts, will the 90 second limit unlock a whole new way to think about video expression? I did a quick video yesterday and things seemed to work very well — other than me on video. I really want to ask my students about it later today and class and get their sense, but I am thinking there are some really interesting things that we can dream up to get people to think hard about how to share a fully baked concept in 90 seconds or less.

Speaking of class, I am still having a blast with it and have been really happy with how things are progressing. I am going to really miss teaching over the summer and may not have a chance to get back in the classroom for quite some time. This has been a very good experience and I have learned a ton about so many things.

This blog is now running WP 2.5 which is a good thing … took a little time to get everything back up and running after the update, but it has been worth it. That’s it.

Reading Thoughts

As I sit at my counter on a lazy Saturday morning with Jazz playing in the background I am struck at how nice it is to see the thoughts of my students streaming before my eyes. Now that I am finally home after what feels like weeks on the road, I am taking a little time to get caught up on my RSS feeds. The big difference is that I’m not reading my typical array of Apple news or Enterprise 2.0 stuff … I’m going through entries my students have made in their own blog spaces over the last few weeks. What I see are a lot of really insightful thoughts as they relate not only to the assigned readings, but to all sorts of things they are thinking about. What I am struck by is that none of my students in the past have taken the time to post thoughts unrelated to a course in an CMS/LMS such as ANGEL or BlackBoard. I wonder why that is …

This isn’t really news to me as I’ve used blogs in courses I’ve taught before, but the combination of our own PSU Blogging platform, an interesting course topic, and a more mature group of students is creating some interesting results already. I recall a few years ago in a small study I conducted with my colleague, Bart Pursel, we asked students if they were more motivated to post in the blog environment compared with ANGEL and they overwhelmingly reported that they were. I am very interested in seeing how these students continue down this path.

Google Reader CI597C Tag

What does this give me? I am already learning so much more about the way they think, write, and discuss. The fact that there are more artifacts for me to begin to build my impressions of them is amazing to me. One of the themes of the course we are teaching is identity … with that in mind I find it interesting that I am already able to create a stronger sense of who these students are by not only interacting with them in class, but by reading their blog posts. Makes for a stronger sense of community (which is another one of our primary themes).

So, as I sit here and read the thoughts of my students I know there is something important about giving students their own place to think out loud. I am also struck by the fact that I would rather read their thoughts than those typically clogging my google reader on a lazy Saturday morning. I’ve shared out a Meta-Blog of my students if you are interested in exploring with me … you can always check out what is happening in the class by visiting the Pligg site. We’ll also be posting our first class podcast as soon as I can get it edited. Until then I have some reading to do.

Social Ratings in Teaching and Learning

A while back we completed another Hot Team white paper related to social rating sites — think of as the big example. Essentially a space where content is either aggregated in or submitted by users and then voted on by the community to raise the opportunity for exposure to all readers. Lots of people find these types of spaces very important for helping them filter and discover the things that are interesting to them. We’ve talked about it on the ETS Talk podcast in the past and we are all agreeing there is something in this for education.

So, in a typically crazy move Scott McDonald and I made the decision to put a pligg (open source) site at the middle of our CI 597C course we are teaching this semester. At the start it confused students a bit, but I am starting to see content coming in from student blogs, with comments, and votes. It is really cool to see a community developing before my eyes. It fits the theme of the course — Disruptive Technologies for Teaching and Learning — so it is a natural fit.


This week we will see if our vision of this will work. What we hope to see are students responding to the course readings in their own blogs (so they “own” the content) and they are aggregated automatically into the Pligg site. They are then given three votes to give to the top posts (and they must comment on the post as to why they voted for it). The top vote getters rise to the top and these then form the basis for the face to face discussion for the week. It feels like it is a solid way to bring lots of pieces of content together and give students a real voice in the organization of emerging conversation. It is worth watching. Anyone else exploring social rating sites for teaching and learning?

Divided Attention

Posts are coming at a very slow pace these days over here. It is obvious I have entered into a very hectic travel, work, life period again. I have been on the road much of January … first to FL for vacation, then to Arizona for a couple of talks, back to FL for more vacation, and then back here it State College. I spent a whirlwind four days in the office this week catching up and digging out from under the avalanche of work that had been stock piled while I was away. Tomorrow AM I head out to the annual Educause Learning Initiative meeting in San Antonio where I’ll be presenting with my colleague, Allan Gyorke. That should be fun and if anyone is going to be at ELI, leave me a comment and we’ll get together.

I am also teaching this semester and this past week we had our first face to face session of the semester. I was hoping to write a post about it, but work got in the way. I think teaching with my good friend, Scott McDonald will prove to be a ton of fun and really challenging — challenging only b/c Scott is one smart guy and he will push me to be more prepared and academic in my approach. I will probably learn as much as the students this semester just by getting to work with him. The first class was excellent and we had an outstanding discussion around how we as educators need to be more aware of what our students are all about as we attempt to design learning environments. Lots of fun and the new social rating site we are using to aggregate all of the student blogs is really coming to life.

At any rate, the posting here will be light over the next several weeks as I continue my traveling and course schedule.

First Class Podcast

Scott McDonald and I are co-teaching a course in Penn State’s College of Education this Spring. We’re teaching Curriculum & Instruction 597, Disruptive Technologies for Teaching and Learning. One of the things we’ve decided to do is produce a course podcast as much as possible. Today we sat down and recorded the first podcast of the semester — well before the semester begins. This is really just a course introduction and a little view into what is going to go on. The included podcast is the first cut — complete with strange music breaks. I hope this version makes the cut … feedback is welcome.

Download the Podcast

Apple TV Thoughts: The Wireless Content System

I’ve been using my Apple TV for close to two weeks now and I am really enjoying it. After some initial setup issues (with my old receiver, not the Apple TV) I have had nothing but good things to say about it. It has worked perfectly with my iMac in the other room — wirelessly grabbing content any time something new flows in. All I have to say is that it just works. Not a surprise, but for a new space for Apple, this thing works like a second or third generation product.

Seeing that I am not into the hacks that so many people seem to be psyched about, I would like to share a thought about the Apple TV … I think it could be a killer school-based content platform. What strikes me is how easily it all works — plug it in and let it grab content wirelessly from anywhere. Imagine a school with one in every classroom all connected to not only a central iTunes library, but to any other iTunes enabled machine in the vicinity. Schools could subscribe to any of the thousands of available audio or video podcasts and be constantly playing fantastic educational content in their classrooms.

If you used it in combination with a school-based iTunes U implementation, individual teachers could easily subscribe and share their own content as well as student work. What an affordable way to create a high end “streaming” solution. I don’t know yet if there is a limit to the number of Apple TV systems you can setup and connect to one machine (I know there are limitations in the other direction), but it all seems like an outstanding option for moving audio and video around in an educational context.

Here at PSU, our public broadcasting network is establishing a nice presence in the Penn State on iTunes U space we’ve been creating. Imagine schools simply connecting to that and the other Universities’ spaces to grab resources that are now easily and affordably moved around a building. I think it makes the case for Apple to include an educational discount for this device. Talk about a new age wireless cart for content distribution! Am I missing something or is this a great way to leverage the emerging public iTunes U spaces as well as the podcast directory and the Apple TV?


With the Apple TV it seems like you could (un)wire access really well.