You don’t owe me an apology

Gentle reader, good news. My long-awaited essay was published this morning in the Inside Higher Ed Views section. Long-awaited by me anyway… the IHE editor was very expeditious in moving this piece along, but I started writing the stupid thing 6 months ago.

I originally titled the piece “You don’t owe me an apology.” But the IHE editor changed it to the, I have to admit, better title “No Apologies.”

And now that this piece is off my plate, it occurs to me that there’s a Part 2 that I want to write. No Apologies is mostly a meditation on why it’s really ok for students to disengage from a MOOC, or audit one. My editor suggested some expansions, to the effect that everyone should also stop wigging out about the high dropout rates from MOOCs generally, and that the higher ed press should stop harping on the issue. I included some discussion to that effect in the middle of No Apologies. But it occurs to me that really deserves 1500 or so words of its own. That will be my next opus.

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LMS Bingo

I realized yesterday that in my long and storied career in academia, I’ve taught with a pretty fair cross-section of learning management systems. And then, because I’m just that compulsive, I started to try to count them. So for your edification… or maybe for my own amusement… here’s that list.

  1. WebCT: I cut my teeth on this LMS, way back as a doctoral student at Syracuse University. I used it to support my classroom courses, thus making my courses “hybrid” or “blended” courses, even before I knew that was a thing. And I taught my first entirely online course in WebCT, in 2000, maybe 2001? I still remember that I had a student in that course at the Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. And I thought it was just so incredibly cool that a student halfway around the world could participate just as meaningfully in the course as someone who lived on campus. And the rest, as they say, is history, as far as my interest in EdTech is concerned.
  2. Blackboard: This is what UNC was using when I started there in 2003, and what we used until 2012, when we threw it over in favor of…
  3. Sakai: I was on the taskforce that investigated the pros & cons of switching from Bb to Sakai, and after the longest pilot program in human history, made a recommendation to the campus IT Executive Steering Committee. (I think you can guess what that recommendation was.) Even though Blackboard was still the official LMS on campus through 2012, thanks to the interminable pilot, I had been teaching in Sakai as far back as 2007.
  4. Canvas: Used it when I taught for the University of Washington this past year.
  5. Desire2Learn: Will be using it when I teach for the University of Wisconsin — Madison in the Fall.
  6. Moodle: Ok, I admit it… I haven’t actually taught a course in Moodle. But I have used it as the shared work- and filespace a project. Which I think should count, don’t you?
  7. Coursera: Does this even count as an LMS? I actually think it does, since it allows you to create and manage a course, including content, assessments, and discussion forums, which really are the important bits. On the other hand, it’s not as fully-featured as many other LMSs. On the other other hand, maybe that’s a good thing. Either way, I used it for my MOOC.
  8. Ning: Paul Jones and I used this for our Library 2.0 course in 2009, back when it was still a free platform.
  9. Social Media Classroom: I used this one semester for my Digital Libraries course. Social Media Classroom is of course Howard Rheingold’s project, an effort to leverage social media to foster active learning. I found it to be a good effort, but I preferred the DIY approach. Specifically…
  10. WordPress: UNC has a campus WordPress instance, and after some of the shine had gone off Sakai for me, I used WordPress as an LMS for all of my courses, for several semesters. The only thing I didn’t do in WordPress was give grades: for that I provided a link to the gradebook in the course Sakai site. (I really wanted to get a gradebook working in WP, and the admin of the campus WP instance and I spent probably too much time trying to get a gradebook plugin working, but we never were able to.) Anyway, WP was pretty good as an LMS, actually. It accomplished what I really wanted in an LMS, which was to have the discussion be front-and-center. And it made it easy to plug in tools on an as-needed basis: a Google Calendar here, a wiki there, RSS feeds over here. And it was a heck of a lot more customizable than any other LMS I’ve ever used.

Goodness knows, there are plenty of other LMSs out there. But I think I’ve covered of the ones that are currently the big players. C’mon edX, want me to teach a course for you, so I can put another notch in my belt?

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What I’m up to

What with the semester winding down, I’ve been pretty bad about keeping up with the blogging that I promised to do, to keep my colleagues in SILS informed about what I’m up to here in Seattle. So here’s a quick update on my current major projects.

One: We’re relaunching the Metadata MOOC, Probably in mid-July. I’m very pleased and excited about this, because I’ve been contacted by email and Twitter, ever since the first round of the MOOC ended, by individuals asking when it will be re-launched. So I know there’s a pretty fair bit of interest out there.

It’s taken quite a long time to get this worked out, in part because of changes in staffing at Carolina. First of all, Kim Eke, the former Director of the ITS-TLI group (and my primary contact while I was developing the MOOC), recently left Carolina to become the Director of Teaching, Research & Learning Services at UPenn. Awesome for her, not so much for Carolina. With Kim gone, leadership of the MOOC initiative has been moved over to the Friday Center. There’s a whole discussion to be had about where a MOOC initiative should be located at a university, whether it makes more sense for it to be in a center for teaching and learning, or in the Continuing Ed unit of the university. But I don’t want to get into that discussion here. Maybe in another post. The point is, moving the MOOC initiative at Carolina from one unit to another seems to have slowed things down, at least with regards to the relaunch of my course. I can’t speak to the other MOOCs out of Carolina.

Also, Meredith, who was my TA for the first iteration of the MOOC, has graduated. Again, awesome for her, not so much for me… because the Carolina MOOC initiative does not have any funding for TAs for the second iteration of our courses. I hit up my dean for some funding for a TA, and he very generously has contributed support for 10 hours per week. Also, I’ve been in contact with one student who took the MOOC the first time around, who’s interested in being a Community TA. I’m hoping there will be more students interested in being Community TAs. Maybe I’ll even have more TA support on the second round then I had on the first! Maybe, but probably not. Still, I’m really looking forward to working with the Community TAs; we didn’t do that on the first round.

Two: I’m writing a book. On metadata, it should probably come as no surprise to learn. For the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series. I’m very excited about this, for several reasons. First of all, it’s MIT Press. Do I really need to say anything else about that? MIT Press! Second, this will be my first book, so a shortish book seems to me like a good way to cut my teeth on book writing. And third, the “synthesizing specialized subject matter for nonspecialists” approach of the Essential Knowledge series is very appealing to me. In fact, that’s a large part of why I wanted to teach a MOOC in the first place: to introduce metadata, a specialized and fairly wonky subject matter, to a broad general audience. So I feel like this book provides a great venue for me to continue the work of the MOOC. And in fact it should come as no surprise to learn that the book is more or less a direct result of the MOOC: the editor of the Essential Knowledge series was a student in the first round of the Metadata MOOC.

Three: I’m on the organizing committee for the Innovation in Higher Education preconference of the International Communication Association annual conference… which is, conveniently, here in Seattle later this month. The preconference is being organized by the Oxford Internet Institute. My understanding — to be fair, indirectly inferred from conversations with other members of the organizing committee — is that the ICA has not, to date, had much to do with innovation in higher ed. But on the other hand, the OII is all about innovation online. So the OII is organizing this preconference, in part, to demonstrate to the ICA that this is a rich area that would be fruitful for them to pursue. And it is incredibly interesting stuff: take a look at the papers that will be presented at the preconference. Right in my wheelhouse: the future of MOOCs, the future of online education, evaluation and assessment. So I’m really looking forward to the preconference, and the ICA conference more generally. In fact, I’m wondering why I haven’t ever attended the ICA conference before. Clearly an oversight on my part.

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On advising Masters papers remotely

Part of my agreement with my Dean, that allows me to be remote for this academic year, is that I will document the effects of being remote on doing the job. So, now that the deadline has passed for our Masters students to submit their Masters papers (basically a thesis, only without a committee, just a single advisor), I wanted to write a bit about how it went to advise Masters papers remotely.

And here’s the short version: being remote had almost no effect at all.

I only had one Masters paper advisee last semester, and only one this semester. That’s a reduction for me, as I usually have 2 or more per semester. But given that Fall was my first semester advising Masters papers remotely, I wasn’t sure how that process would go, so I wanted to take it slow. And, I suspect now, given that I was remote in the Fall, students maybe weren’t thinking of me when they were considering who to ask to be their Masters paper advisor for this semester.

So I had fewer Masters paper advisees, these past 2 semesters, than I usually have. And fewer than some of my colleagues. (Some of my colleagues seem to do nothing else for weeks, leading up to the paper deadline, than advise students, bless them.) But more than some. So, with that caveat, here goes.

Among other advising, I give my Masters paper advisees advice on how best to utilize me as an advisor. Knowing my own preferences for working style & scheduling. And over the years, I’ve found the that the two most useful pieces of advice, from my point of view, are:

  1. Send me small chunks of your paper to read, as you write them. Very drafty drafts are fine. The smaller the chunk, the faster my turnaround time. The corollary to this is: for the love of all that’s holy, don’t write your magnum opus and then send it to me three days before the deadline, without my having seen any of it before.
  2. You tell me how often you want to meet with me. I’m happy to set up a regular schedule, or meet on an as-needed basis. As-needed, however, is defined by you. I’m your advisor, not your mother. I’m not going to sit on you to get you to work on your paper. Not that mothers sit on their children, but you know what I mean. I’m not a helicopter parent-style advisor.

Piece of advice #1 (small chunks preferred) works perfectly well remotely. My advisees emailed me sections of their papers when I was living in Chapel Hill; the fact that I now live 3,000 miles away from Chapel Hill made no difference whatsoever. They would send it to my UNC email address then; they sent it to my UNC email address now. ‘Nuff said.

Piece of advice #2 (scheduling meeting times) worked slightly differently remotely than when I was on campus regularly. Instead of meeting in person in my office, my advisees & I had to schedule phone or Skype calls. And I had just as many calls with my 2 Masters paper advisees this past academic year, as I’ve had in person with many advisees when I was on campus. Not to mention that some of my advisees, when I was on campus, were themselves remote, so we had to do phonecalls anyway. Would I have met with these 2 advisees, this past year, more if I had been on campus? Maybe; it’s impossible to know. But did my not being on campus hinder the advising process? No, I don’t think so.

So there you have it. The effect of working remotely for an extended period of time, on advising Masters papers? Negligible.

And, as a postscript, let me just add this: Of course the effect was negligible. I’m pretty technology-literate, as are our Masters students. Email and the phone are pretty well-established technologies. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out how to integrate these technologies into a workflow… especially not a workflow involving only 2 people. There are lots of distributed work teams in the world that are a lot larger than 2 people, that function just fine. But I’m documenting effects of being remote on doing the job. So there it is.

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