I’m Teaching this Spring! Disruptive Technologies Stony Brook Style! #CDT450

This spring I will be back in front of a class teaching, Disruptive Technologies (CDT 450: Topics in Computational Arts) for the first time here at Stony Brook. This is a class that I co-created and co-taught at Penn State as a graduate seminar with my great friend and colleague, Scott McDonald. This will be the first go of it by myself and I suspect it will be quite different not having my co-conspirator by my side … with that said, I have plenty ready to go. You can check out the course site and see what you think. The description the department provided is below. If you are a Stony Brook Undergrad, consider being part of this grand experiment!

An examination of current technologies that could be considered both as emergent and disruptive. The course is a combination of an examination of the way these technologies are used, an examination of the technologies themselves (looking “under the hood”), a dive into the scholarship of community, identity, design, and its interaction with disruptive technology. and creative re- (or miss-)application of the technologies. In other words—keeping with the automotive metaphor—we will not only kick the tires, but we will strip the whole vehicle down, understand how it fits together, and rebuild it with a new ability to see its potential. This course is designed in a “blended” model that will take advantage of all sorts of digital tools and online spaces. This course is different from your typical undergraduate course; it is approached as a grand experiment, which will evolve and grow over the semester, with on-the-fly changes to the design based on your work, thoughts, and feedback. Prerequisites: CDT 208 (MUS/THR/ARS 208) and one 300-level course from CDT, ARH, ARS, CAT, CS, EST, MUS, THR, or a course approved by cDACT Director.

Taking a Look at Diigo … Again

Since all the drama last month revolving around the (non) closure of delicious I decided to take a second (or third) look at diigo as the place to manage not just my bookmarks but my ability to easily share online resources. I’ve always thought of delicious as so much more than an anytime/anyplace bookmark tool … it is a social network in every single way. I’ve been an active user since the early days and have used it in my teaching for quite some time and have always seen it as part of a larger teaching and learning toolset. Through the years I’ve used it faithfully, but the way Yahoo appears to be treating the service I thought I better see what else is out there to support my needs and interests going forward.

I will say that delicious still feels better to me, but that is more than likely because of familiarity. After importing all my delicious links into diigo and banging around a bit I am very impressed. I love the ability to highlight parts of pages I am reading and easily add comments from within the browser … I also like that when I view my library I not only see my bookmarks, but also the highlighted content I was initially impressed with. I am enjoying the groups and really like that it is helping me keep my eyes on what some important people in my professional life are paying attention to.

Its not so much that I am late to the diigo party, its just that I may have stayed over at del.icio.us’ place a little too long.

The other day I filled out a request to get an educator account at diigo and was rewarded with that a day later. I haven’t yet fully explored what it all means, but at first glance it looks like I can create a very simple social network for storing, managing, and sharing content with groups of students quickly and easily by importing a class list. I would recommend investigating the affordances of the diigo educator account and sharing some thoughts.

Screen shot 2011-01-03 at 10.03.20 PM

I’m still playing with this tool for teaching and learning … I’d like to push beyond the notion of a simple shared space for collecting resources. I am sure that when my friend and colleague, Scott McDonald and I tee up our Disruptive Technology in Teaching and Learning course we’ll be taking advantage of what a tool like this has to offer in some new and interesting ways. I am beginning to wonder how we as an Institution could find a way to partner with the folks at diigo … what would that relationship look like and how could we make it play out in a positive sense in the mid to long term? I’d love to hear about how people are using diigo in their teaching as well in managing their own professional lives.

Taking a Break

I’ve been quiet here for the last week trying to collect thoughts after writing so much last month. I think I’ll be a little quiet for the next several days as well. I’m not giving up on writing, just need to find my voice again. Before I sign off to enjoy Spring Break, I wanted to mention something … I dropped a friend of the family’s son off at school today for them and walked him to his pre-K classroom. It is the same private school my daughter went to prior to moving on to first grade this year at the public school. As I was walking down the hall I saw the quilt her class made last year as a culminating project. I was stopped in my tracks — I was just in awe of what it means.

It was filled with color, life, and inspiration. I recall hearing her talk about the quilt nearly every day last year and didn’t quite understand why it was such a big deal. Even at her graduation when they showed it off it didn’t quite hit me. Seeing this living example of my daughter’s contribution to the intellectual, emotional, and perhaps spiritual embodiment of her school in the hall today made me both very sad and very happy. It is, in every single way, in stark contrast to the representation of her contribution in the public school system — the “adequate sign.” I can’t tell you how it made me feel to know she made something tangible that the current students point to as a model for how they learn to contribute, share, and participate in the process of learning. Really an amazing thing to see.


And with that, I’ll talk to you when the mood strikes!

Classroom of the Future

Closing out the month of One Post a Day … its been a crazy experience that was even more complicated this time than when I did it back in August. It was well worth it however and I want to acknowledge those who went along for the challenge with me — Allan, Brad, Erin in ETS and several of the students in the Schreyer Honors College as well. All of the PSU One Post a Days can be seen in a tag aggregation at the Blogs at PSU.

With that said, I’d still like to explore an idea …

My colleague Allan Gyorke is leading a group looking at informal learning spaces on campus and they are doing some interesting work exploring spaces that are outside of our classrooms. With that in mind I wanted to ask what our classrooms should look like in higher education to embrace the future. I have a few ideas, but would love to hear more.

One thing I really think we should do is design a classroom that can project two sources to two different screens. This would allow faculty to teach with supporting content as they do now (typically PowerPoint, Keynote, or a web page), but would also engage in bringing the back channel to the front. I’ve done presentations and taught with a Twitter stream of a specific hashtag running behind me and it completely changes the dynamic of the room. For the most part our students have technology at their fingertips, why not work to engage them.

I see it at conferences all the time, why not classrooms? (credit, bjoern)

I see it at conferences all the time, why not classrooms? (credit, bjoern)

I’d have no problem working to socialize a tool like Twitter or the Harvard Live Question tool over the course of the first couple weeks of class. I think by doing that we’d see some really interesting things emerge. Twitter is becoming a powerful platform to do just about anything on, not sure why we aren’t seeing more teaching with it … it seems ideal as a place to engage in lots of good backchannel conversation. I think the students are ready … if you walk past any modern classroom there is technology everywhere.

Why not engage this? (credit, justin)

Why not engage this? (credit, justin)

An additional thing I’ve been thinking about is using a blog as a real time reflective environment. Invite students to comment on a post during class and see how things emerge. When we teach too many times we ask questions and get really very little verbal engagement … would that change if the conversation was seeded by blog comments? I am guessing yes.

To do any of this stuff you need a room to support it. I think a room that can project meaningful teaching materials as well as the backchannel is key to exploring this new way of teaching. What do you think?

Constructed Meaning

Many of you who have spent anytime around me in the last six months or so know that I taught (what I thought to be) an interesting course with my friend and colleague Scott McDonald last spring. Our course was a graduate seminar offered in the College of Education’s Curriculum and Development department under the working title of Disruptive Technologies for Teaching and Learning. Scott and I both felt the course was a bit of a grand experiment — one where we worked hard to mix the “down in the trenches” application of potentially disruptive social technologies with the best of the rigor associated with a graduate level course. We focused all of our activities, discussions, and readings around our three themes — community, identity, and design.

In many ways, we hoped that the design would emerge throughout the semester — we did quite a bit of planning, but didn’t prescribe everything. Scott and I had a really solid notion of what we were going to do and really understood what we wanted the students to come away with, but we did stop short of producing a full 15 week syllabus. Instead opting for a more flexible approach in which we broke the course into thirds — faculty driven, student exploration, student driven. Each third had about 5 weeks assigned to it. It worked fairly well.

The constructivist nature of the course was very comfortable to me, but I could tell that there were some students who were uncomfortable with it. I just got my SRTE (student rating of teaching effectiveness) results — nothing like timely feedback — and while solid, they express the fact that students were agitated/uncomfortable/uptight/confused with the open nature of the course. SRTE scores are out of 7 and I received a score lower than 6 on only 2 of the 15 items … both make me wonder about our approach and students’ readiness for it.

For the item, “Rate the organization of the course material” I received a 5.82 … while I believe this is still strong I would like to dig into that a little further. Scott and I did not organize the course in a traditional way at all — we did not use ANGEL (our course management system) to post assignemnts, instead opting to have a course blog that he and I could post to. The syllabus was there as were the links to the calendar, readings, and assignments. Much of the content of the course was created by the students in their own blogs and then aggregated together into a social ratings site we set up. So the question I have is related to student expectations with regard to material findability. Here’s the thing, are students so comfortable with the ability to log into ANGEL that they feel a course is disorganized if the majority of the material exist openly on the web? If this is the case, what does it say about our ability to move beyond the CMS and into the open web for course materials?

The other item I got tagged on was, “Rate the clarity of the syllabus in stating course objectives, course outline, and criteria for grades.” I got a 5.36 on that one … again, relatively high, but below the 6 level. This is another one that worries me a bit — but I am torn. As an instructional designer I am keenly aware of the need to clarify all expectations, but as someone who is interested in a more agile approach to teaching and learning I cringe at programmed instruction. The syllabus we posted went through the end of the 4th week … after that, the students were to help co-create the course. And they did! They kicked ass throughout the semester, but really came alive when much of the conversation was left up to them. It is tough to understand how one can be both clear with expectations via a course outline and maintain an open flow to the learning opportunities. So with this I am left wondering how comfortable our learners are with the ideas that they must be (at least) partially responsible for making the learning space come alive. Furthermore I am left wondering how this would play out in an undergraduate course — low structure, but big opportunities to adjust the flow of the course based on how the students are moving through the learning process?

At the end of the day there are things I would change and Scott and I have discussed some of them. We plan to teach the course again with a few minor tweaks to see what happens. But when, on the first day of class, you walk in and announce to the students that the next 15 weeks will be a grand experiment you have to be ready to deal with the unknown. I can’t think of a better compliment than to be dinged on the two items I discussed — they indicate we made the experience slightly uncomfortable and off-balance. That in and of itself in indicative of disruption.

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 digg.com 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?