Do As We Say, Not…

In keeping with my recent promise, I’m going to do a shorter and definitely incomplete post.

Most parents eventually realize that children follow our examples way more than they  follow our instructions.  If you really want your child to do X or behave like Y, then you have to model that behavior and do X yourself and behave like Y.  The admonition to “Do as I say, not as I do” isn’t very effective.  They will do as we do, not as we say.

Yet colleges, and I presume universities, although I speak only with experience about colleges, seem to be predicated on the idea that modelling desired behaviour somehow isn’t relevant in the college context.

I can’t tell you have many times I’ve been to a professional development event or major conference and had to sit through some long presentation  and lecture where the speaker was trying to convince me not to lecture any more.  Or where the speaker was using  a word-dense Powerpoint slide deck to convince me that the research suggests not using Powerpoint in class.  Right. Do as they say, not as they do. Then there’s the time college leadership has brought in outside speakers to lecture us on the need to flip our classrooms.

It strikes me that there’s a lot of this behavior-message mismatch happening in our pedagogy  too. We want students to think critically and creatively.  Yet we will only accept whatever the big publisher’s textbook says as authoritative and we mark wrong the student’s attempts at another interpretation. Or, we mark them down when they deviate from the rubric. What’s worse, we say we want them to think critically, yet all of our course content – textbook, ancillary slides, problem sets, etc. – is just the packaged content Pearson-McGrawHill-Cengage oligopoly. We use it without even thinking about it, let alone critically evaluating it, modifying it, and making it our own.  Of course, without open licenses, we can’t modify it. So why did we choose it in the first place if we couldn’t critically make it our own? What are we really teaching our students?

In my role as founder and Chief Instigator of the LCC Open Learning Lab, I’ve been struggling with how to get more students interested in writing and creating on the public web.  I started with hopes of pushing them to create domains of one’s own, but I’ll admit it’s been a struggle to just get them to want to write on their own blog.  Unless you count Facebook and Instagram posts, writing as a way to think or express themselves is something they seemingly only do when it’s assigned and required.

Then it struck me. I’ve heard this complaint before. It’s kind of evergreen actually among faculty and administrators.  Students don’t write enough.  A common solution for several decades now has been for a college to create a “Writing across the curriculum” program (WAC).  The very fact that WAC’s have been around a long time and students still aren’t writing that much should tell us there may be something else missing in our solution.

I suspect the missing piece is what we, the faculty and administrators, do.  In my experience, outside of tenure-seeking faculty at research-oriented schools, most faculty  don’t really write much.  What little they do write is in response to an assignment: write a document assigned by an administrator.  I’ve been told they’re too tired to write after reading and grading all their student papers or any of a myriad of other reasons -reasons that sound vaguely like what I hear from students.

I know that before I discovered WordPress and blogging, I didn’t write that much.  I imagined a lot of things I’d write, but they stayed in my imagination locked away and totally incomplete – just like I suspect many of our students’ ideas.  But when I started blogging, embraced an open course content approach, and began to develop my own public persona on the web as Econproph, it all changed. My critical thinking skills improved. My ideas began to reach people. They responded. That inpired me and I learned more. It became  a virtuous cycle.

So, I’m wondering if Writing Across the Curriculum isn’t a case of “Do as I say, not as I do”.  Perhaps in order to inspired students to write more we should change the WAC program.  Instead of Writing Across the Curriculum, why not Writing Across the Campus?  Why should students be reading what their professors, deans, and provosts think and say?  Shouldn’t they be able to see how these people with whom they interact daily, actually critically think, engage ideas, and communicate?  Perhaps if we  Do the writing ourselves, they’ll follow our example.

Note to self:  If this was a “shorter” post at 794 words, then I apparently don’t know what “short” is supposed to mean.

 

 

 

Make Connections

WordPress makes a lot of dreams come true.  But it’s not the magic bullet. The WordPress community is.

Yesterday, the ever-inspiring Sue-Anne Sweeney (@MadonnaUAging) showed me this Tedx video by Barbara Sher.  She makes a powerful point. It’s not bad attitude or some other supposed personal character weakness that keeps you from your dreams. It’s isolation.  Isolation is the dream killer.

The remedy for isolation, of course, is to make connections. Meet people. Share your dreams.

So I’ve got a couple suggestions.  Find a WordCamp near you. Find a WordPress group near you.  Join. Share. You’ll meet a people that just might be able you help you. And you just might be able to get the warm feeling that comes from helping somebody else.

If you’re anywhere near the western metro Detroit area this Tuesday, January 9, come join us. Our first meetup is Tuesday, January 9, 2018 in Plymouth, Michigan. RSVP on Eventbrite so we know you’re coming! Bookmark the new site for the group: westmetrodetroitwp.wordpress.com.

Don’t Call It a Resolution

So it’s a new year, the traditional time for resolutions. For some reason I don’t like the idea of resolutions, so I’m gonna say I made a few “promises to myself”.  My friend Chris Gillard (@hypervisible) self-describes himself in his Twitter profile as “I spend a lot of time thinking (and not enough time writing)…”.  I’m in that trap too. Not that I spend too much time thinking, but that I spend too little time writing. Or, to be more precise, I don’t write enough or often enough.  So a promise to myself is to write more and, in particular, blog more.

I’ve also promised to be more aware and reconsider my habits on commercial social media like Facebook, Twitter, etc. I think I’ll call it 3C Social Media – corporate, commercial, centralized social media. Chris, and others, have made the powerful arguements about why 3CSocialMedia is so awful. But they’ve also made the point that we can’t just “stop using it” as a solution.

One tactic that can help is a return to more blogging and RSS feed use.  So I’m promising to do my part and blog more. But that takes me back to “a lot of thinking and not enough writing”.  So, of course, I’ve been thinking about why I think so much but don’t write so much (this is really getting meta).  And I think the reason is a complete, finished argument. What I mean is, I’ve had this feeling that when I write or blog, I need to have a complete, finished, thorough argument or story.  This would sure explain why I seem so utterly incapable of a short, terse post. (well, that and my natural verbosity).

I’m trying to entertain the notion that maybe, just maybe, I don’t need to write a complete, thorough, fully-fleshed argument every time  I write.  So I’m going to go out on a limb this year and try blogging a lot more often. But be prepared, there’s likely to be a lot of posts where I’m just kind of saying “hey, this is the odd connection my little grey cells made in the shower this morning and I can’t get it out of my mind. It may not make any sense but I’m playing around with it.”   We’ll see how this goes.

A New Year. Auspicious loneliness.

So much. So much.

It’s a New Year.  It’s an arbitrary day out of the year, but culturally we use the Gregorian calendar and select it for new beginnings. Resolutions. New determination. Where I live north of the equator, we’re 12 days past the winter solstice. Days are getting longer (finally). There’s a trickle of additional daylight each day suggesting hope.  It’s auspicious.

I’m coming off break. Almost two weeks with little work done. I should clarify and say market-driven for my employer/profession. There’s always personal, household, and commons work being done but our culture doesn’t acknowledge that work.  Only exchange for money matters. The fact that I’m talking this way is also auspicious.  There were many powerful moments in the past year that I treasure.  Two of them were listening to David Bollier speak about the commons at OpenEd17 and whatever moment last year I was inspired to describe the Open Learning Lab work I’m doing at LCC as building a “Commons of Our Own”.

There were many other epiphanies, for example, almost anytime I read something from Sean Michael Morris.   If my culturally-conditioned new year’s resolutions stick, I’ll be writing much more about these epiphanies and insights as this year unfolds.  There were also amazing experiences. OER17 in London. Domains17 in Oklahoma City. OpenEd17 in Anaheim. Two OER Summits in Michigan. All of it sparked an amazing amount of learning, insight, creativity, and excitement for the change I can help make in the coming year and years.

An auspicious beginning for 2018.

But I’m stuck. I’ll be back on campus tomorrow. There’s no required f-2-f work today for me. So while the campus comes to life today, I’m staying in my home office and slogging my way through enterprise an LMS and “syllabus management” system and reading the emails. A message from payroll playing gotcha about the break and my interns. Reminder of how the LMS and syllabus management system are paragons of the learning prevention genre of systems.

I’m reminded of the budget, organizational, and policy battles I face when I’m back. Open learning hangs by a thread. It’s a spider’s thread to be sure, but it’s a thread nonetheless. I realize that all those epiphanies, all those insights, all that empathy, and all that transformation I’ve experienced over the past few years with the help of the open learning community were mine. The others on campus haven’t had them. Most of them don’t want them. Too hard. It might mean doing and not just complaining. Everyone’s too busy doing and being, well, busy to learn or change.

The more I learn and more I change, the greater distance I feel from my colleagues. Physically I am still at the same place. But mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and soul-fully, I’ve journeyed far.  I feel increasingly like a man from Mars on the campus.  And that loneliness, my friends, is inauspicious.

 

Commons of Our Own

A college degree is more than the sum of its courses. The learning that takes place in the classroom has always been only a part of a good college education. Many researchers, including most recently Cathy Davidson in The New Education (Basic Books, 2017)  have noted that what is important and most transformative are the opportunities to share, create, and connect on campus, not the lectures and testing of the classroom. The learning experiences that are most impactful are those that connect the classroom to experiences and authentic assignments rooted in the real world.  Historically, this is why campus life and indeed the physical campus itself has always been so important. The campus, and life on the campus, has provided the liminal space and the linkage between classroom and real world. The campus is truly a place of ambient learning.

In Open and Integrative: Designing Liberal Education for the New Digital Ecosystem (AAC&U, 2016), Randy Bass and Bret Eynon argue for the importance of engagement, community and mentorship, and integration in liberal education. They observe how the digital revolution in education – indeed the digital revolution in all society – has tended to unbundle higher education, attempting to reduce a college education to a mere collection of online training courses. The argue instead for a vision of a “learning-first” digital ecosystem. Their AAC&U and Gates Foundation commissioned study identified many ways universities and colleges could create a new digital learning eco-system that is learner-centered, networked, integrative, adaptive, and open.  They provided many examples of such important initiatives such as Open Educational Resources, (OER), public e-portfolios by students, and student research. They devoted an entire chapter to just one such innovation, “Domains of One’s Own” (DoOO) projects. DoOO projects emerged from the University of Mary Washington and spread to approximately 50-60 universities and liberal arts schools. 

The LCC Open Learn Lab was an experiment launched in Spring 2016 to see if a DoOO type project were feasible or valuable at a community college. LCC was the first community college to attempt a DoOO project.  The results of that initial experimentation period were enormously successful as documented in the final report for what had become “Phase I” of an ongoing project. That report is available online at http://bit.ly/2yZSwEh. The first year-and-half of experimentation established that “it is both feasible and worth doing!”  But, being new and innovative, how “it” fit in the college was not obvious. Phase II of the project requires explaining how to institutionalize the effort. Institutionalization of the Open Learn Lab is more than just finding a place on the org  chart or a budget line to fund it. It requires clarifying how open learning fits in the LCC mission, plans, and projects. Explaining how Open Learning fits at LCC is the objective of this document.

The LCC Open Learn Lab has helped faculty, staff, and most importantly, students, to create hundreds of public websites where they can create, publish, connect, and share. These websites are all located within a domain called OpenLCC.net. While the Open Learn Lab staff often help set up the initial sites, the content of these sites and vision of what they can do and how they can be used to further learning and community connection belongs to the scholars in our LCC community – our students, faculty, and staff. OpenLCC.net is a scholarly commons. 

The Physical Campus – Before Digital

The physical campus has always formed a space where learning was shared and integrated, where students and professors could connect outside the classroom. Classrooms, the spaces where courses are taught, are closed, private spaces. There are good reasons for that – although it is possible to be tightly closed or restricted. Courses constitute parts of a curriculum which leads to some kind of certification. Institutions need documentation and record-keeping of what happens there – documentation that we used to call a grade-book but now call assessments, grades, and analytics. Both students and professors need a safe place where ideas can be examined and explored without outside interference. The classroom experience is temporal. Often the artifacts produced are as fleeting as the course itself.

The best campuses provide ambient learning and spaces for connection-building outside the classroom. They provide libraries, common eating areas, study zones, exposure to art and scholarly works outside the classroom, and ways to connect to the larger world. They provide student life. The campus provides opportunities and encouragement for sharing, creating, and connecting.

Providing this kind of campus space has always been easier for full-time, residential colleges and universities. Students are literally immersed in the environment 24/7. Community colleges and other institutions with a large part-time, working, or commuter student population have been more challenged in providing the campus commons.  Lansing Community College has rightly received significant recognition for the great improvements it has made to the physical campus environment in the past decade.

The Digital or Online World Today

The digital world of the 21st century poses an even greater challenge in providing the creative, connected, sharing experiences of the campus.  Increasingly, students of all ages are engaged with the digital world. Yes, they still need to do things in a physical space, but the imperatives of social media and their digital lives command more of their attention. The physical campus finds it difficult to compete for attention. Online education has created an even larger gap.

Although distance education has been around for a long time, the last twenty years have seen an explosion of student enrollment. LCC started its own online courses in 1997. LCC, like many community colleges, now has between a quarter and a third of all courses are delivered purely online. As much as half of all students take at least one online course.  The emphasis in online education has historically been on the courses. Large investments and costs have been incurred to both create online courses and to “deliver” and “manage” them. The result is the modern Learning Management System (LMS). While LCC uses Desire2Learn Brightspace, it makes little difference which LMS is used. The role and function of the LMS, be it Blackboard, Moodle, D2L, or Canvas Instructure, is largely the same. It is to “manage” learning activities. The LMS is, in effect, the digital classroom. Like the classroom, it tries to contain all the relevant activities. The experience of taking a class in a LMS is temporal. At the end of the semester, access to that class disappears. Evidence of what was learned, discovered, or created there is gone, banished to some archives file at a data center not accessible to students.

 

 

The result for students is a virtual desert. Students are connected and spending time, often more than ever, connected to the public digital world. Students of all ages increasingly live their lives connected to the Web and its many sites. Although it is virtual in the physical sense, the digital public Web is the “real” world to students. In contrast, as LMS systems grow more sophisticated and as publishers convert traditional printed textbooks into rented courseware modules, the classroom is experienced as increasingly isolated and cut-off from the “real” world. And indeed it is. There is much value in online digital materials and course work that is easy to navigate and clearly designed to “teach” to some learning outcomes. However, by themselves, the LMS, videos, and related courseware lead to shallow learning. They focus on information transfer, not transformative, integrative learning. It happens in isolation and unconnected.

We see the effects in enrollment and engagement. Students like online classes because of the flexibility and the fit with their busy lives. They use their devices for other learning – cooking, house repairs, play instruments, resolve arguments, etc. Why not use it for college? But when college course delivery is the sole element of the college experience, they lose interest. The closed course is often experienced as isolated from the “real”world – just a series of boxes to check or hoops to jump through. Engagement suffers. Retention suffers. Long-term learning suffers. Online in the LMS, they find few opportunities to connect socially the way they do with social media.

OpenLCC: A Commons of Our Own

OpenLCC.net, is a digital scholarly commons, digital counterpart to the physical campus experience. It is not the equivalent or an analogue, but rather a complement that creates a”new digital ecosystem” that Bass and Eynon envision. OpenLCC enables connections. It connects the content of courses in both f-2-f and LMS classrooms with the real world via open, authentic learning assignments. It provides spaces where students and faculty can document their learning, find their scholarly voice, and publish to the public Web.

A commons is a community, not just a shared pool of resources. As the work of Nobel-prize winning economist Elinor Ostrom and other economists such as David Bollier have shown, a commons is a community that shares resources using established social protocols and norms. OpenLCC.net is a commons of the scholarly activity of LCC scholars: faculty, students, and staff. Being accessible by the public, we can share our scholarly work with the greater Lansing and Michigan communities that support us.

OpenLCC.net is distinguished by the being a .net top-level domain and not a .edu. LCC.edu is the official school site. It is the voice of the institution itself. OpenLCC.net is the commons consisting of the many individual voices of the LCC community. The commons consists of many hundreds of websites created and controlled by individual faculty, students, staff, clubs, or centers. These sites are functionally clustered into four major types: Share, Learn, Create, and Connect.

  • Share sites provide an infrastructure for creation, editing, and hosting of OER materials for classes. Share sites provide faculty a wider range of OER options than typically considered.
  • Learn sites are primarily created by faculty to serve classroom needs. They may consist of course supplements such as a shared glossary, active learning sites, or even public course hubs. Learn sites provide a chance for faculty to add a specific open assignment or activity without needing to completely re-do the course design.
  • Create or Voice sites are mostly individual websites or blogs for students and faculty, allowing them to establish their own public voices and portfolios. Create or Voice sites linked to course hubs enable using a connected-courses open methodology in courses.
  • Connect sites are for discussion, meeting and socializing with others, study groups, or for displaying or connecting with the larger public community of Lansing.

In other posts in this series, I will explain and detail each of these types of sites. Together these sites make it easy for faculty to adopt open educational practices, OER, and open pedagogies incrementally into existing classes, providing a digital learning ecosystem for integrative learning.

From MS Word to WordPress

The other day I made a guest post at my good friend Deborah Edwards-Onoro’s blog  about a little-known way to write posts for WordPress with Microsoft Word.  The full post is at Lireo.com and is titled Using Microsoft Word to Post to WordPress.

Basically, it’s instructions for how to connect Microsoft Word to your WordPress sites(s) using a Word template called “Blog Post”.  It enables you write and compose in Word, including inserting images, and then one-click publish to your WordPress sites.  If you use MS Word a lot, it’s pretty slick.

Here’s an additional link for the official Microsoft instructions for blogging from Word.

Running Errands at Domains17

I’m speaking again at Domains17 conference. I’ll talk about the LCC Open Learn Lab experiences in creating and exploring a Domains of One’s Own project at a community college.  It’s also applicable to any teaching-oriented college or university wanting start a DoOO.

Here are the slides. If this embedded view doesn’t show, they can be downloaded/viewed at this link.

 

 

And here’s a link to download the Final Report of the Open Learn Lab.  It’s called “Final” report because initially we only committed to a 1.5 year project to explore the feasibility and desirability of doing a DoOO at the college.  As you’ll, read the results were quite positive and now we’ve committed to expanding and “institutionalizing” the program at LCC.  I’ve also committed to helping other schools get started via a non-profit organization called Malartu, Inc.

Open Learn Lab project – Final Report_May2017