Short and Sweet

Over the last couple of years most of us have become ultra familiar with link shortening services like tinyurl and to save extra characters when using Twitter or for sending out really long URLs in emails. I’ve heard lots of thoughts on how to make them better and have had more than one conversation about why they could lead to the end of the web — I think that is probably greatly exaggerated. The argument goes something like, if everyone uses [insert service name here] to share their links and that service goes away, we have no real record of where we were linking to. I have seen instances where tinyurl has been down or eaten links so I’ve moved away from it.

I have been using bit.y a little more often and this morning took the time to explore what I think is really powerful — the dashboard style view into what is going on with those links as soon as you send them out. Essentially provides you with some nice anayltics into how many clicks you get from sending them out. What I don’t know (but would love to experiment with) is if the person who clicks on shortend link is also signed into the service, do I get to see that person’s username? That would be incredible as part of an open edu focused approach … I could essentially replace the same kind of click through tracking an LMS offers by simply passing URLs through an authenticated service.

Click to See Detail

Click to See Detail

What is interesting to me is that this is yet another very simple piece to a very open and flowing LMS concept — I’ve written about the New York Times TimesPeople toolbar before as a simple way to push resources to a cohort … now in cooperation with something like URL tracking I am getting a solid way to see what is going on with those resources. Nothing to earth shattering here, but a little something interesting to think about over the weekend. Anyone have a account and want to experiment a bit?

Big Impact Stuff

We’ve been working to strategiclly align the things we do in ETS to those of the University for quite some time. One of the things we shifted attention to about a year ago was getting reengaged with academic units around large impact opportunities as they relate to curricular design. My first two years in ETS I worked hard to help establish a vision for the creation of platforms to support digital expression and in most cases these were infrastructure moves — Podcasts at Penn State, iTunes U, Adobe Connect, and the Blogs at Penn State are examples. In a few cases they were physical environments … the Digital Commons is the best example of that … but the Educational Gaming Commons is also an emergent example. Ultimately the goal with these platforms was to move our culture into a place where we had new infrastructure to help us think critically about new forms of scholarship and pedagogy.

The platforms allowed us to explore the ideas around Community Hubs and other group publishing platforms … these are places where the community could find new ways to connect, share, and support new thinking. The Community Hubs also helped us identify new participants and helped us rethink how we went about deploying our physical events like the Innovator Speaker Series, the Learning Design Summer Camps, Digital Commons Tailgates, and the TLT Symposium. These face to face events have become a new kind of infrastructure designed to coalesce community at a much larger level. This has paid big dividends.

Additionally we spent quite a bit of time laying the groundwork for new kinds of faculty investments — we created the Hot Team process, Engagement Projects, and the TLT Faculty Fellows. At this level is where we are now seeing our ability to move emerging ideas into real concrete services that can transform large scale teaching and learning challenges into new opportunities. In almost every way, these approaches live on top of the infrastructure stack we took so long to build. In other words, we invested time and energy into people, processes, tools, technology, events, and facilities so we could find new ways to engage faculty around emergent conversations.

At the end of the day when I look around I see us engaged in quite a few big impact projects. A couple of examples include a redesign of an English course that impacts thousands, a Communications course that has 350 students in a single section, a Biology Lab designed, developed, and deployed openly in our Blog platform, and even an Economics course that most of our students in the College of Business take. Each one of these examples leans on the infrastructure we’ve built — regardless of if that infrastructure is physical or virtual.

My point is that as we go forward we can attack new opportunities in the teaching and learning space because we’ve taken our time to get the infrastructure in place. It doesn’t mean that while we were getting it all in place that we stopped working with faculty, it means that we spent less time doing big impact things and worked hard to show demonstrations of the ultimate potential. This requires a very patient and visionary administration and a powerful set of foundational technologies to build on (I am thinking about web space, authentication, a University wide CMS, help desk, etc). We’d never worry about building those things … we lean on them to empower new opportunities. In lots of ways the tangible outcomes we are seeing in the teaching and learning space have everything to do with every single piece of the stack. What is ultimately exciting to me is that we not only have the physical and virtual infrastructure to solve lots of cool problems, but we have a culture that is willing to explore its potential. The success of our large scale projects is really built on the foundations lots of people have built over the years. For that I am thankful and can feel confident that our current team is adding to that infrastructure so things we can’t even imagine can be implemented with speed and agility.

More Waving

Thanks much for the comments from yesterday’s post! Seems there is real interest in the Google Wave platform out there in ed tech land. One thing that is striking me as interesting are the number of comments I’m getting these days via Twitter … what excites me is that people are reading in the moment and are compelled to share a short thought with me.

@colecamplese great commentary cole. Thanks for translating to .edu space! (from @Clifhirtle)

What concerns me is that these are comments that could potentially move the conversation further if left within the context of the blog post. And in that statement I am making the case for what I understand Wave to be — a platflorm that will allow for in stream communication that will filter back into context. This is amazing to me in and of itself. Today I figured out that it will be relatively easy for us to run our own Wave instance … this will (presumably) give us a layer of control that could empower a whole new level of openness and conversation in our classrooms.

The old thinking of commenting where I need you to could be destroyed — and that is an amazingly scary thought. I love it.

The big talk across the edublog space is that it could mean the end of the LMS. I’ll just say it, that’s crazy talk. What it probably means is that we might get a better footing in the LMS contract world and that we’ll have new opportunities to innovate. This platform can do quite a bit for us in the teaching and learning space, but as far as I can tell it probably will not be suited for testing on a real scale and it probably cannot replace the basics of the LMS definition — learner management. We need the LMS to do lots of things, but we also need new tools to support pedagogy that works to engage students. I think Wave will begin to even the playing field so that we have easy to use teaching and learning platforms alongside our real need to manage assessment, participation, and the like. Wave represents a new opportunity.

I am thinking quite a bit about a post by colleague Michael Feldstein … I think it and the comments should be part of any of our push to understand these changes. Its worth a read and a discussion. As always I am happy to hear thoughts!

Google Wave

I’ve worked really hard over the last couple of days to make sense of the Google Wave demo from the weekend. I’ve actually taken three days to watch the demo and I have to say I am both a bit stunned and impressed. Clearly this is a huge move and one that has big implications for all of us in the .edu space. If it will be ultimately successful as a product I can’t say quite yet — I was not lucky enough to be there and to get a developer account. I’m not even going to attempt to do a review or an overview … there are plenty of those available online and the demo gives a good a view as you are going to get for the time being.

There are a couple of things I do want to throw out as reactions and see if anyone else is thinking about this stuff — and I will be wanting to talk about it when we run into each other. The first thing that comes to mind is how obvious this all is — I mean once I’d seen it. They released the tool that so many people I spend time with are always talking about, typicaly in terms like “wouldn’t it be cool if we could just edit this document in real time and just blah, blah, blah.” In so many ways, it is a real representation of the many conversations I’ve had the last several years. Once I started to see how documents could be authored in such a naturally collaborative fashion I was sold. I’ve honestly not seen something so paradigm bending in a single demo in quite a long time.

Just the portion of the demo where they are collaboritivly editing a Wave that gets instantly published to a blog is mind blowing. When anyone can wander up to that blog post and drop comments or edits and it flows back into the Wave I was beyond astonished. I can now use a blog for a big class and have every single conversation happen in real time either in that blog or in my Wave client (if that is even a real thing). Instead of browsing to sites (even via an RSS reader) I can just stay in Wave and watch all of the conversations happen. Everything I need to do can live there — I think. If it really does pull together email, Twitter, and Herculean-powered google doc like features then I can only begin to see how this can change how we use technology in the classroom. Sign me up for that as my google for education suite — you can keep the rest.

And that is one of the other things that just blows my mind … Google previewed something that could make so much of their other stuff obsolete (even before much of it comes out of beta). Honestly, why would I use separate spaces for email, collaborative document creation, project management, communication, publishing, form building, and conversations of every shape and size when I can simply live in the Wave environment. Until I see it I can’t say for sure, but so far I am impressed.

As I was watching the demo I was hanging out with my friend and colleague, Scott McDonald. Scott and I taught a course together that has gotten some press for our use of Twitter … as we are watching this demo we kept chomping at the bit to give it a go next Spring. What it left me wondering was if this will be viewed as a massively disruptive environment like nearly all the other social platforms are, or if it will be welcomed into our teaching and learning environments? It seems to have so much of what we’d want from a platform that the implications for our work is enormous. I have to say I am very anxious to see how it plays with several of the ideas Scott and I have been tossing around.

The timing is amazing as well … just as we and so many others are entering into transitional periods with our LMS/CMS environments Wave has come along and shattered our notions of what it means to use the web as a platform to empower real time conversations. I know the traditional systems cannot catch up to something like this in time, it is quite frankly just too damn insane of an environment for them to latch onto. This isn’t like bolting a blogging platform to an existing code base, this is about rethinking the way we do things together face to face and online. It is about completely rethinking learning, teaching, authoring, sharing, collaborating, and so much more. I wonder if the rest of you feel as energized by the potential? From where I am sitting, this could be the start of what is next on so many levels.

Running on Faith

I’m breaking a CogDog rule that states one should not blog about (not) blogging here in this post because I have been a mess at writing for the last month or so. I’m not sure what it is — perhaps the TLT Symposium, followed by reading and submitting all the staff review and development plans for ETS, or wrapping up my class, or Alan Levine’s visit, directly followed by presenting at the Pennsylvania One to One Conference, or maybe it was giving a talk at the awe inspiring Faculty Academy event at the University of Mary Washington — no matter, I haven’t made even a moment to write. What is a shame about that is the simple fact that I have missed out on preserving all of my reflections from these events. What that means to me is that I am not practicing what I preach — I am not actively engaging in the notion of ongoing reflection. I’ve let my blogging get in the way of my reflecting, and that shouldn’t happen.

What I think I mean is that blogging and reflecting may have become two very different things to me. If I think of my bog as a place devoted to my personal reflection and growth then I am not using it the way I should be — I’m worrying about fleshed out content instead of capturing moments. I have fallen into the trap of thinking that my reflections are a bore to you — and to tell you the truth I should know they are because on lots of levels they are a bore to me. The thing is that I have to see my blog as a place that I can indulge my own reflection without worrying about you. At the end of the day I don’t sell ads on this site and I certainly don’t take my google analytics seriously. So why should I worry about pleasing anyone? My goal should be to write what is happening in my head and at best hope some folks decide it is worth a comment or a conversation.

That’s not to say I’m not worrued about writing in complete thoughts and provoking thinking from those that do stop by. What it means is that I need to press to use this space as if no one is reading every now and then … I need to use it the way we are hoping the students at Penn State will — as a place to engage your own reflection as much as you do those who read.

So with that in mind I’ll be sharing thoughts about our four Faculty Fellows we have arriving in ETS in the next two weeks, new ideas we’re kicking around for our platforms, Learning Design Summer Camp, and if you’ll indulge me, some thoughts on things that are really not for you.

Social Media Lesson

A couple of weeks ago we held our annual Symposium on Teaching and Learning with Technology here at Penn State. It was an amazing event once again — this time with just shy of 400 faculty and staff choosing to spend a beautiful Saturday with us. Our keynotes rocked, with David Wiley supplying a rallying call towards openness that has helped move our OER conversations forward. At lunch, danah boyd delivered a whirlwind of a talk that people are still buzzing about. One thing in particular was how both David and danah hung out with us not only the night before, but all day on Saturday. Up until this year none of our previous keynotes have stayed and chilled with us — they even joined us for the post Symposium party afterwards.

danah wearing the hat.

danah wearing the hat.

Sessions were excellent and the conversations in the hallways was lively. I could go on and on, but nearly all the sessions are now captured over at the Symposium site — including David’s keynote with a slick side by side widescreen presentation that our Digital Commons team came up with (danah is coming soon).

Click for full image

Click for full image

But this post is about something related … two things are lingering in my mind after the event. The first is how much Twitter was used during the event itself. The tltsym09 hashtag turned into a trending topic early in the morning — sometime during David’s opening keynote. That in and of itself is really cool and very interesting. The Twitter stream of the day is long and it does tell a bit of a story all by itself. But, sometime during the morning I realized that people weren’t really blogging the event like they had in the past — does a Twitter stream provide enough for those not there to grab onto? With the lack of sessions being blogged I am afraid we could be doing the event a disservice. I’d love to hear thoughts on how to take the Twitter stream and do some real sense making on it all.

Click for Full Screen

Click for Full Screen

The other big social media lesson I am taking away from the event has to do with Flickr and community tagging. Early on we decided to use the tltsym09 tag for the event across the social web. We were thrilled to see hundreds of photos flow into the tag aggregation on Flickr. What I wasn’t thrilled about was the hijacking of the tag by a cross dresser on his bed in lingerie. It didn’t offend me per se, but I know for a fact (from a couple of emails) some folks were mortified and I was asked to “fix” it. Flickr doesn’t really allow me to delete tags from other peoples’ photos and while the pictures clearly didn’t fit into our group, there was nothing about the pictures that would cause Flickr to pull them. Turns out it was simple to just contact the guy and ask nicely — he removed the tag.

This is one of the reasons people are terrified of openness and the social web — lack of control. It has caused us to rethink our own use of the social web, so we’ve created a Flickr account that will be the repository for our pictures, but it doesn’t solve the community stuff. I think we need to have a conversation about how we take advantage of the social web in light of the fact that it is as simple as watching the trending tags on Twitter Search and hijacking them to insert your product, pictures, etc into the flow of the emergent conversation. Funny how even after all these years of participating in an increasingly open way, we can continue to learn and adapt our usage to really take advantage of what we are learning.

Any thoughts?

The Right Start

I’ve had a tough time getting back into writing since my One Post a Day participation during February. March brought about Spring Break and an absolutely amazing vacation that was just what the doctor ordered … problem is that I have been buried in a way I haven’t been in some time. Every day this week I’ve been hoping to write something but I haven’t been able to find the time or the energy.

Driving to work this morning I was in a bit of a funk so I shuffled the music and got a dose of what I really needed — a serendipitous series of songs that changed my day.

It left me wondering what the things are that make our days work? So many of us walk into environments that demand change and attention that it can be a bit overwhelming and lead to frustration. Some days it works and you are ready to meet the challenges … there are other days when it is more than difficult. The best part about it is that each day provides something that makes me want to meet the challenges, to work to change things, and push thinking. The bad parts really do pull me down.

So when the perfect trio of random music carried me to my 8 AM meeting I felt better than I have. Its amazing that three songs can make a day. Are there things that change the day for you?

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!