Saturday, September 7, 2013

Power over Technology Concedes Nothing without a Demand

"Technology empowers the user and takes power from those who want to be in charge."     —Lisa Nielsen of The Innovative Educator (blog and Facebook Group).

The above quote is from a Facebook conversation earlier today about BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) a.k.a. BYOT (...Technology) in the conventional classroom. We also had a couple of nice tangents about how the concept may apply to educators in different settings.

Overall, Lisa's quote makes a point I want to help my students understand—that it doesn't have to be the session leader's way or the highway, with technology just reinforcing existing hierarchies. I think a look at how "adults" act in BYOD situations may help inform our decisions about how to work with students. In other words, it may not be that hard to figure out.

In faculty meetings, it's important for the "people in charge" not to waste meeting time doing stuff that makes attendees want to go to their computers or mobile devices. Then a supervisor or chair doesn't have to "play teacher," looking askance at faculty who are indeed checking mail, chatting, texting, or doing class prep instead of hanging on every word of an esteemed presenter. Even with a worthwhile agenda, poor use of technology in a roomful of people talking about innovation seems to put everyone at cross purposes.

My bestest PLN-space so far
One reason that "conventional educators" are connecting with PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter is because we can't seem to sustain the same quality of conversations locally—except with a few colleagues in informal settings. In larger gatherings such as department or college meetings, it only takes a couple of naysayers to shut you down when you suggest that better use of technology or a bit of common sense might improve meeting procedures. They pick up the scent of a challenge to Parkinson's Law of Triviality and will generally not put up with it for long.

Something related applies to learners in the classroom, of course, and that is where today's BYOD conversation began. Some of us are finally catching on: Don't waste time doing stuff (or putting out info, or testing on discrete factoids) that the students can Google for themselves. One DOES have to spend time on context, and the importance of knowing what to Google, and why it matters to know this. That's a harder conversation to have, and you (okay, I) may lose some very traditional students who want to be spoon-fed and then to regurgitate at mid-term or final in the time-honored fashion. (Rather than just settle for some attrition, I know I must come back to this elsewhere. Suggestions welcome!)

I am not yet sure how to address another aspect of the larger #edtech question: How not to go all colonialist or missionary on your learners, and "help" people in ways that are "for their own good" without respecting their input. Here you go, have some appropriate technology! Except that we can be mindful and listen carefully for what help learners may actually want/need. I am going down this road with my classes now, albeit slowly. I'm not sure what I'd do in a more locked-down K12 district telling me through official policy what tech to use or not use in my classroom.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

[This is cross-posted from a Google+ comment in the Community called Google Apps for Education] I used G+ Communities for two of my undergrad classes last semester. Different courses, one face-to-face and one online. I am just activating new ones for fall, similar situation. I did not have a single Community for the whole class because I did not have a good reason for making students join in. But I did have a Circle for the whole class so I could share with everyone in a single post. Here are a few points that might be of interest. Feedback or suggestions from anyone here will be welcome!

  • I set up all student Communities as Private, not Public. This was to create the sense of a "safe" space. Only a few students had stated concerns. The institution doesn't know or care, to my knowledge. This semester I am doing the same setup.
  • I encouraged but did not require students to use Circles. I think the G+ experience is much richer if you do Circles, but I am not sure you can force that level of participation on someone else.
  • I make sure students know they can set up their own Communities for class or for anything else. This is not obvious to everyone who joins G+. (In other words, don't assume.)
  • There were about 10 students per Community. This was "management" on my part. Smaller means you need more Communities. Also, with only 4 or 5 people (reasonable for face-to-face) you can still have a "dead" online space with no conversation or interaction. BTW only a couple of Communities seemed to have organic/spontaneous conversation. The rest waited for the instructor (or TA). So I will change several things this fall.
  • On that note, my participants are students in General Education courses (required, not elective, not usually in the student's major). Some are very interested in the subject matter and some are not. I don't want to stereotype further, but I do want to allow multiple ways to participate in the class. G+ is only one way.
  • As to the Google Apps side, one class did very well sharing Docs within the Communities—some real collaboration here and there. The other class treated the space more like a conventional discussion board. I think this was more in the nature of my assignments for each class and I will be more mindful of that. The point is to allow lower-case "c" community to happen, not to duplicate an old LMS or forum.
  • This fall, I have included a registration survey to look for people who might be more active and who might get "promoted" to moderator. I will put one or two (who are willing) in each student Community. (Survey tip is from +Jeannie Crowley.)
  • This fall, I will use Categories more frequently and (hopefully) better aligned with my course topics. This was an afterthought in the Spring, poor planning. I think this will give a better sense of organization inside the Communities.
  • This fall, I will share my class Circle with all the students early and discuss my #PLN openly with them. This was an oversight! In my defense, I didn't expect anyone to really get into the Circle thing or network-building. However, more students are being gently pushed into LinkedIn for some reason, so the current crop are thinking about networks beyond Facebook.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Bloggia Resurrectis

The easiest way to dispel a rumor is to verify it.
Never mind where I've been. Never mind the date on this post. (It's August 2013 no matter what you think.) The truth: In the summer of 2011 I started using Google+ and I found the community there to be a better fit, more engaging than the blogosphere, or Facebook, or Twitter, or any of the other social media/Web x.0 thingies. You Tumblr and Pinterest fiends will have to make your own case.

On a small scale, I kept participating in all of them. In particular, I continued to comment on other people's blogs. My family and a few educator colleagues kept me somewhat engaged on Facebook and Twitter. But the best online conversations I had were on Google+.

Blogs still have a lot to offer in the higher-education environment, however. So rather than just "making" my classes write this fall, I'm joining in the fun. Here we go...

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Presenting: An Enchanting look at push & pull technologies

I finished Guy Kawasaki's Enchantment on a recent flight and since then, I've been struggling with how (not whether, that was easy) to share aspects of it with my students next fall. This would be a slam-dunk in the Business department, but what would make sense for incoming freshmen in my world of first-year seminars and basic tech?

I could certainly just add the book to my list of recommended readings. It's too late to add it to required readings, and in any case that would shatter Guy's mood in advance. The problem with each option in this world of broken textbook models (ask any university library or publisher) is this: required is a draconian word that means you don't pass the course without it, while recommended means it'll never be on the test, so hand me that game controller.

OK, stealth it is. They'll get some tips and then be pointed to the source and to Guy's online world. Fortunately, my classes incorporate virtual communities and social media, so it makes sense to provide a role model, someone who's doing online right. There are two chapters clearly at the intersection of "what enchanted George" and the actual subject matter of my courses:

Chapter 8: How to Use Push Technology
Chapter 9: How to Use Pull Technology

Guy's table of contents came in handy at this point since it's also a checklist (complete with checkboxes) of the chapter topics. As a classroom instructor I am interested in better presentations from myself and from my students, so Chapter 8's section on presentations will be my opening. Rather, it will be Guy's opening. I'm going to set the bar rather high for my class by leading with a better "hook" than I can design:

Guy's standing-o presentation at Indus Entrepreneur 2006. (Multiple formats available at the link!)

Guy talks a little about the above Art of the Start presentation on page 123 of Enchantment. I thought he was exaggerating but no, he really knocks it out of the park. (Hockey fans will pardon the baseball reference.)

Over the summer (when most of us do our fall course planning) I'll flesh out the rest, but that's a start. Suggestions/comments welcome of course!

BTW, I will also be explicitly sharing the Chapter 8 epigraph from philosophy professor John R. Searle, which may just hold its own as a class topic:

Because we do not understand the brain very well we are constantly tempted to use the latest technology as a model for trying to understand it. In my childhood we were always assured that the brain was a telephone switchboard. ("What else could it be?") I was amused to see that Sherrington, the great British neuroscientist, thought that the brain worked like a telegraph system. Freud often compared the brain to hydraulic and electro-magnetic systems. Leibniz compared it to a mill, and I am told some of the ancient Greeks thought the brain functions like a catapult. At present, obviously, the metaphor is the digital computer.
* Book cover from used by permission.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Happy 2nd Anniversary, CSUMB and Google Apps!

It's been two years since CSU Monterey Bay took Google Apps to be its lawfully wedded cyber-spouse. (Aren't June weddings wonderful?)

CSUMB kept one relative in the attic for about a year: FirstClass was our departing e-mail client/server system and we kept it in the background to be able to access our old messages. (MeetingMaker, the campus's official scheduling software, simply disappeared like an angry ex not invited to the nuptials.) Meanwhile, Google brought a passel of its own kids into the relationship. But only three were invited right into the house and given their own bedrooms: Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs.

Other Apps such as Sites were left to fend for themselves at first. Instead of prominent CSUMB dashboard links, for example, there would be smaller links on our Gmail page, that sort of thing. Over these two years, most of my students had never even clicked on the Sites link until required to do so for my class. (That's not a complaint, just an observation that you get the behavior you design for.)

Google Docs may finally be in early majority stage, beyond the early adopters. After a year or so of "But we need Microsoft for everything" and about 50 other excuses, I'm seeing it used more for collaboration by known non-techie faculty members.

Here's an interesting commentary on how the first two years went (but nothing about a 2nd Anniversary Celebraganza??) by Greg Pool, who is CSUMB's Lead Web Publishing Coordinator. Greg has some intriguing comments about Google Moderator. I thought I would be one of the first to use it on campus next fall, but apparently somebody snuck by me!
(Google Logo Generator is at:

Monday, June 13, 2011

Howards Endeavor

I will be in the next cohort of Howard Rheingold's Introduction to Mind Amplifiers starting June 14. Looking forward to this 5-week intensive course.

I didn't just stumble upon this opportunity. With his gracious consent, I've been using parts of his syllabi in my fall First-Year Seminar classes for a couple of years. Although it was "malice aforethought" in the section with theme "Virtual Communities and Social Media," there was also some trickle-through to the section that just needed a couple of on-point readings about community.

Howard has been a really social guy online since the early days of The WELL in the '80s. I've only had personal contact in the past several years but it's been a joy. He is @hrheingold on Twitter and you should consider following him there.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

National Academies Press: All PDF books free all the time

This is huge. My condolences to the commercial publishers who can now sell me even less.

Press release here.

Main site here.

Enjoy. Don't forget to tell your students.