Simple Repositories

Say the word repository and watch any ed tech geek roll their eyes. Why? We’ve been there … and not just once, but over and over again. Structured places to put things by a large community is tricky and very complicated business … at least that’s what everyone tells me. I’ve honestly not seen a repository that really seems to work. I guess there are lots of reasons for that and if you asked one of us who has been involved in a repository project we’d rattle of a dozen or more reasons for you — people don’t want to share, meta data is hard, the environments are overkill, blah, blah, blah. I’m not saying they aren’t useful when you have very clearly defined goals and data. They get messy so quickly when you start to think about them in a general sense. With that in mind, I have an ultra simplistic thought that I want to throw out into the wild to see if I get a “you are crazy” style response.

For the past week or so a few of us in ETS have been taking part in a little experiment in multi-author activity blogging within the Blogs at Penn State to see if we could replicate the joy in sharing things quickly across the web into our own space. The idea is to do simple push button publishing, but instead of dumping it directly into Twitter or Facebook, we’d drop it into a common and simple blog right here in our own environment. We have been calling it, “Stuff” for no real reason. All it is a blog with a nice little push button bookmarklet that Brad Kozlek threw together for us. As you hit a site you highlight the text you want and press your “Stuff It” bookmarklet to post it. No different than the things lots of people do everyday with fb, tumblr, twitter, etc.


There are limitations, but they are easy to overcome. The first is that you have to ask to join and one of us needs to add you. We’ve already talked about how to overcome that … and it is easy. Comments are a little limiting in that there isn’t any layered social opportunity with them — no rating and threading is a problem we’ll also address.

These things aside, I see lots of potential. Here is the crazy idea — why not just launch a blog that has features like this as a repository? Have something to share, use the bookmarklet to post it quickly. There is plenty of meta data for the built in search to pull from — post title, body, tags, and categories would provide a great context for searches. In this scenario I am thinking it is 100% open with a CC attribution license on it so all content that goes in is sharable. If you wanted to provide something, just go and log in with your account once to add yourself as a member to the environment and you are good to go.

It gets even more interesting for another reason … not only could you contribute content to this blog/repository space directly, but using tag aggregation within Blogs at PSU you could contribute to the repository by posting at your own PSU blog using a shared tag. That way one could make decisions about how content flows into the space. The past week or so working with the Stuff space I am seeing an even more powerful role for our publishing platform — a platform that can actually host applications on top of it. Adding a simple self registration options provides us with a whole new piece of software that isn’t really a whole new environment to manage. So that’s it … call me crazy, but would an environment like this give us something important?

Organizational Reflection

For the last few weeks we’ve been working on our ETS Annual Report … the final draft is due today and I’ve spent all day getting it into shape — the dreaded last mile if you will. There are many more eyes that will need to review all this, but after sitting down and reading over the 28 page report I am left with an overwhelming sense of pride and appreciation for all the people who have contributed to the content of this report. I’m not really talking about the document itself, but the work that this report describes. What I am struck by as I read it is that so much of the work and activities that have occurred over the last year have been the result of not just the nearly 40 people in ETS, but the community we work to support. So many of the activities were quite literally the result of crowd sourced efforts. It is humbling and I only hope others out there have the opportunity to work with such passionate, intelligent, and motivated people. My colleagues here at Penn State are amazing. I can’t thank them enough.

The other thing that is striking to me is how much of the strategy behind all of the accomplishments are shaped by our connections to people outside our Institution. Many of the ideas for what we do come from those of you across education, the blogosphere, and beyond. Your energy and amplification of your own work is both inspiring and motivating. If this platform didn’t exist and if people weren’t sharing their work like they are we’d all be trapped in some far away place that looks nothing like where we are.

With all that said, I thought I’d share the introduction to the report — without any real editing, so excuse any typos (they’ll get caught and fixed). If you have thoughts or comment, please feel free to share them. And thank you to everyone once again!

The theme for 2008-2009 in ETS has been one related to the utilization of existing platforms to impact the broadest audience possible. Over the last several years we have worked hard to help people across the Penn State community integrate technology into their teaching, learning, and research. Our focus on establishing platforms for digital expression is proving to be an effective starting point for us to work to incorporate technology in new and interesting ways.

During this year we continued the trend to focus primary energy on projects with potential to influence Institutional change. In addition to maintaining the trend of increased participation in the TLT Symposium, we grew faculty and student adoption of the use of the Blogs at Penn State, enhanced remote collaboration through Adobe Connect, changed the way Penn State manages and distributes rich media via the Podcasts at Penn State Project, completed installation at all Campus locations of the Digital Commons, hosted and implemented a successful Faculty Fellows program, participated on grant projects, and integrated our digital expression platforms into large enrollment resident education courses.

Furthermore, ETS has created strategic relationships with several Colleges, provided opportunities to create awareness in new areas of the University, and continued to establish itself as an organization that focuses energy on innovation in the teaching and learning space. Through our Hot Team process we have brought several new technologies to light and have shared outcomes of our projects through white papers, the new TLT website, and via reports of our assessment activities.

The establishment of our Faculty Fellow program is a bold step that allows us to not only address the needs of the Institution in general, but also expand our thinking by engaging in more formal research activities. In its first year, our Faculty Fellow program produced tangible outcomes that have informed our University wide ePortfolio activities. These Fellowships will provide the basis for ongoing activities across domains and initiatives.

ETS has fully embraced the notion that an open organization is more powerful. Through blogging and podcasting, ETS staff have helped mold the reputation of the unit and to create new opportunities for themselves. The Community Hub and PSU Voices projects continue to bring the power of the community across Penn State to light. The first annual Learning Design Summer Camp had 110 registered attendees and 18 organizational volunteers from across Penn State. The monthly All Instructional Designer meeting brings together instructional and learning designers from across PSU to discuss relevant pedagogical and technological issues, and has grown to an average of 25 participants per session. The first annual Digital Commons Tailgate was just one example of the impact that initiative is having on the rapid adoption of digital media throughout the University.

This, like each of the past several years, has been full of change as well. New faces have joined ETS to help us push initiatives forward. We have once again reorganized the structure of the group to better take advantage of our resources in the face of several new projects. We also made a big change to help address the large portfolio of activities in the form of adding an Assistant Director. ETS has accepted these changes and collectively we have worked hard to embrace new directions and challenges.

It has been a year of adapting to the ever-changing landscape that is teaching and learning with technology. Within the pages that follow we hope to share highlights from the past year.

Community Assistance

student_helpQuick post this morning to point to something my colleague Erin Long posted about yesterday related to the English 202C project she is leading. Erin is one of our stellar instructional designers and in this project she is working with faculty to embed blogging into a multi-section English course. As is the case when you introduce technology to groups of students, they have questions. There are always a few who need help with the basics — and that is fine because we have some great documentation to support a self-service model. The other thing that happens is that when students use our tools for a sustained period of time they end up wanting to do stuff we’ve not thought of or tried … and that we certainly do not have documentation for. Enter the community.

In one of the sections of 202C (which is a technical writing course) the students decided their project would be to create screencasts describing how to do some of these advanced things. They even created a new blog and embedded all of the screencasts into it! The killer part is not only did they all take it upon themselves to do the screencasts, but that they all decided to share them back to us! Erin says it in her post …

Best part of this project? The students are giving all material to the Blogs@Penn State for us to add to our collection of help documentation! We’ll be making everything into a guide as well as adding all screencasts to a tutorial page.

This is the emerging community assistance we’ve been hoping would come to play with us in this space. Exciting to see it happen!

More on Horizontal Contributions as Conversations

I should know better than to post more about this concept given the lack of interest (perhaps my lack of clarity) in my previous piece on it, but I am really interested in generating conversations about it. My friend and colleague, Brad Kozlek, has been working with Intense Debate on his blog showing what it looks like from an end user perspective … Brad does an excellent job of discussing the affordances of this specific tool offers. I think the idea that it is a service unto itself allows it to do so much more than simply handle standard text comments … to me that is exciting in light of at least two of our faculty fellows this summer. If you are interested in what a third party commenting engine can provide jump over and take a look at it in action at my PSU blog.

One of our Fellows, Chris Long, is exploring the notion of “digital dialogues” to start to understand if the platforms of the web 2.0 world can support ongoing dialogue with deeper meaning. From Chris’ post at the TLT Faculty Fellow site describing his investigations …

In Plato’s dialogue Gorgias, Socrates claims to be one of the only Athenians to practice the true art of politics. As is well known, Socrates haunted the public places in Athens looking for young people with whom he could converse. During these discussions, Socrates was intent on turning the attention of those he encountered toward the question of the good and the just. It is difficult to understate the lasting political power these dialogues have had over the course of time. Yet the emergence of social Web 2.0 technologies opens new possibilities for this ancient practice of politics, which Socrates fittingly called in the Gorgias, a “techne,” or art.

When we started exploring the notion of using an external commenting engine to support some of the work Carla Zembaul-Saul wanted to think about this summer, we instantly saw these new affordances giving Chris new ways to explore his thinking — commenting inline via video is a huge step forward in our minds to relate to his work.

While this interesting itself, the thing I was really interested in was not what you saw when you arrived at a given blog, it was what it looked like from a personal administrative side … I was interested in being able to think about how what my (or students’) contributions look like across the social web. We post and comment traditionally in a vertical fashion, while what we need is an easy way to track those contributions once we leave the vertical. So if lots of people, perhaps across the PSU blog service, could use a a service that keeps track of our horizontal conversations something really exciting could emerge. Something that would let us look at all of these horizontal contributions with ties to the original context. Since it is a service on its own, it has a set of dashboard tools that pulls it all together — people you are following, certain keywords emerge, your own comments, links to the original posts, and more. This is the side of it that makes me really hopeful.

Horizontal Memory

Horizontal Memory

If we can make this happen the way we are thinking about it we can empower some new uses for our platform. Chris gets his ability to engage people where they are in multiple mediums and Carla gets a way to use comments as measurable artifacts. I gain the ability to introduce this to my friend, Keith Bailey, in the College of Arts and Architecture as a viable platform to teach art appreciation — in that world, the idea of the critique is as important as the original contribution. So having an easy way for a faculty member to track contributions across many posts as a way to review and reflect on a given student’s growth in the critique space is now very easy. If we can work to understand how to capture and pack up a single person’s comments across lots of posts I think we are moving towards giving them more to reflect on and faculty a better set of evidence to base assessment on. At least I think so … any thoughts?

Staying Put

For the first time in a long time I am looking at my travel for the next few months and things look calm. Sure there is a little vacation in there and even one work trip, but for the most part I’ve tried to really scale back my Summer travel. I’m doing that for several reasons … first there is the family. My schedule tends to be rough on them and I am trying to figure out a better balance. Besides, there really isn’t a better place than our backyard on Summer evenings. Too perfect.

Why Leave?

Why Leave?

Another reason is the incoming class of Faculty Fellows. Each one brings an amazing set of ideas with them that I know will challenge us all to really push forward. I’ll be once again working with Carla Zembal-Saul, while a big group of us will be working directly with Stuart, Ellysa, and Chris. I’ll be surprised if every single person in ETS isn’t somehow effected by their residencies. Its going to be fun.

So just two reasons why you won’t see any major posts about me leaving for this or for that. Will I miss getting to hang out with colleagues and visit new places? Yes. I will especially miss the Open Ed Conference happening in Vancouver, but I have to pick and choose my time wisely this Summer. Staying put also gives me a chance to focus a little extra energy here locally, thinking about how we take the next few steps in our work. I think it will be a Summer well spent.

CogDog Visits PSU

Over the last two days I’ve been lucky enough to spend time with Alan Levine here at my own campus. Alan decided to make the long drive from a weekend gig in NYC to spend time with a couple of friends — our CIO and Alan went to high school together! When Alan told me he was coming in, I didn’t have to twist his arm too hard to spend some time meeting with people and giving a presentation to a group. We did our usual community as committee approach, set up a wiki, and used twitter to get people to attend. In a matter of days we had over 125 people registered!

3505158108_c25940b979jpgThe last couple of days have been a real blast letting Alan see lots of stuff going on in and around Teaching and Learning with Technology at PSU. Alan got to hang out with our Educational Gaming Commons team, the Digital Commons group, talking with people about our Informal Learning Spaces, and just getting to know people. I was lucky enough to have Alan over to dinner where we created a new way to visualize information, watched while Alan read my two year old a bedtime story (I guess that is “analog storytelling”), and just had a great time enjoying a Cuizoo inspired homemade, local meal. Last night I was joined by Alan and a couple of other colleagues at Otto’s to enjoy another local meal. All in all, the informal parts of his visit have been not only fun, but flat out inspiring to quite a few people on my team and beyond. Alan took some time to blog about it earlier today.

3505197004_7c60756d56jpgYesterday afternoon Alan did his 50+ Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story to close to packed room in Foster Auditorium in the Penn State Library. One of the things I noticed was that there were lots of new faces in the crowd — that is really exciting to me! The thing that I loved about the session upon further reflection is just how interesting it was to see the same story told with so many different tools. The funny thing is that my initial thoughts were the opposite — he should use different stories with each tool, but after thinking about it I started to realize that the tools themselves are somehow linked to the outcome of the story. I was happy to read that my friend and colleague, Chris Long, took something similar from the session … Chris says it much better than I do.

This is a significant and important insight. It not only forces us to attend to the myriad Web 2.0 modes of digital expression that are open to us, but also, and more significantly, to ask how these modes impact the content we create, engage, critique and experience.

The other thing I am thinking about with this talk is how it works to focus on the notions of storytelling as a real form of discourse. That there is a process to good storytelling that can (and should) be taught. The intensity of the “tool selection portion” is balanced very well with the introduction of the narrative itself. I think it is a talk that requires some post event thinking … it is so overwhelming at first and then it all starts to settle in. I know that I’ve had that conversation this morning with several colleagues and it made quite the positive impact. Just as an aside, I was looking around the room and noticed how engaged people were not only with what Alan was saying, but also with how many people were going to the various sites while he was sharing them. Great, great session!

3505526583_b38d1d7d82_bThe day wrapped up with a panel conversation that had ETS Faculty Fellows (Chris Long, Carla Zembal-Saul, and Ellsya Cahoy), myself, and Alan — moderated by our CIO Kevin Morooney. I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t feel a bit intimidated to be a member of that group. We had a sweeping conversation related to digital literacy, open education, disaggregation, the Academy, adoption of technology, cultivation of faculty, and so much more. The questions pushed us to answer and expand — and when you have a couple of educational technologists, a philosopher, a librarian, and an expert in education the conversations got deep. It was a professional highlight for me. The questions and the conversations made the whole thing sparkle in my mind.

I am in love with these kinds of opportunities … where else can you find such a diverse set of people participating in that kind of depth of conversation on a Tuesday afternoon? It continues to be part of my professional goals to make sure conversations like this continue to happen on our campus. Conversations that challenge us as a community to engage in a meaningful and complex dialogue that can work to move us forward. I continue to be humbled by the people and passion I see around me. I send a huge thank you out to everyone who helped, participated, came, and just enjoyed!

Voices Carry

I was feeling really restless early last week about our ability to run and manage new and emerging services in a World where change happens at a pace that is nearly out of control. I thought my post, Why Run a Service would be a signal that I’ve come to a conclusion that there are real reasons to try and keep up. I didn’t honestly expect it to strike the chord it did, but when you ask people interesting questions you sometimes get more interesting questions in return that demand to be explored. Lots of killer conversation going on in the comments of that post … one particular thread emerged about how encouraging open writing and blogging can generate greater depth of connections within our community. That last word is the really important piece to us — how we work to engage our community to embrace these emergent trends is what we think will ultimately make what we do more interesting and important. The more they participate, the more we can contribute opportunities to change teaching and learning.

So back to the Blogs at Penn State … as Brad and I sat there we realized we are sitting on a river of data that is built entirely on people right here at PSU. Now that we are reaching the 10,000 user milestone with the service we are seeing an explosion in the understanding and use of tags for filtering content. Courses are using them to aggregate student posts together, students are using them to mark portfolio entries, departments are using them to pull information/knowledge about initiatives into focus, and so on. Once we realized that we started to realize that we could begin to act a little bit like Twitter and use our data to see trends and ultimately predict the future as it unfolds. With this in mind we’re working on a few new and interesting ways to not only tap into the community but also ways to let them move the state of the University around a bit.

So, as Brad Kozlek wrote yesterday about the birth of PSU Voices and our friend The Reverend, Jim Groom linked to today is now in the wild. Is it done? No, but it has huge potential to draw in community engagement and connect academic use to real world context. The Voices project is really just taking advantage of a mashup of our own tag aggregation for blog posts and collections of related items from across the social web. So, if I use Brad’s example, one were to do a tag search for democracy they’d see all the posts from across the public side of the Blogs at PSU mashed up with items tagged with democracy from YouTube, Flickr, and Delicious … they’d also see a running Twitter stream that uses that same term. What it means to me is if I am a Political Science student in a class using a shared tag, in this case democracy, I get to not only instantly see everything my classmates are writing about, but I get to be exposed to an explosion of opportunities from across the social web. I might see an amazing photo that challenges my notions of the concepts associated with democracy, or a grassroots documentary that makes me want to grab a Flip HD and create a response, or it may open my eyes to a whole series of sites that people from all over the World have tagged. To me, it is the opportunity to be engaged beyond the walls of the classroom that is the primary thing here. Exposure to open resources and the thinking of my peers is a powerful mixture that has me really excited.

So the vlaue in running a service like the Blogs at PSU means we can leverage our investment in the platform and reinvent opportunities within the framework of our local environment. It means that our primary audiences can trust the identity of the local content and be exposed to the massive contributions from across the Internet. It means we can invent … and that rocks.

PSU Voices

PSU Voices