R685: Week Four Reflection

This week in R685 we’re discussing online and blended learning.

“the smallest institutions have the lowest [online] penetration rates across almost all program categories” (Allen & Seaman, 2005).

I wanted to draw attention to this because I’m guessing there are lots of reasons worth talking about. For example: smaller institutions tend to have smaller staff and smaller budgets to work with, as discussed in the report. There’s more than that, though: the college at which I did my undergraduate offers traditional and distance-learning formats (though even the distance classes are really only online-facilitated at this point), and though it has begun developing an online degree program in recent years, faculty with whom I still correspond on a regular basis tell me that those people in charge of the program are having trouble understanding in what ways online courses differ from traditional courses, so that may be another reason as well.

At least at my small, private, not-for-profit school (my graduating class, 2008, comprised of the entire undergraduate student body, on-campus and off, was less than 200 people), much of the technological things we take for granted at IU just weren’t possible. The first semester online registration was even AVAILABLE for was the fall after I graduated – I had to truck pieces of paper around campus, get four or five different signatures, and then drop everything off with the registrar (uphill, both ways in the snow, blah blah).

Allen & Seaman (2010) seems to support my analysis that part of the problem is a lack of institutional commitment to online course offerings. “[S]chools [that institutionally believe that their online offerings are strategic for their institution and they have fully incorporated online into their formal long-term plan] enroll forty-three percent of all higher education students but educate nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of all online students in fall 2009.” Those schools that don’t “culturally” understand the importance of the technology are going to be slower to adopt the technology.

That said, I’m not sure if I’m convinced that online classes are unilaterally better than face-to-face ones. I love having course materials available 24/7 from anywhere I might happen to be, but on the other hand, one problem brought up by Figlio et. Al (2010) is one that I am already having trouble with, just a few weeks into the semester: “as has been documented at one major four-year institution, last-minute cramming in internet-based courses is rampant (Donovan, Figlio and Rush, 2006)”. Though I’m doing it on a micro-scale, getting my last-minute “cramming” done at the end of the week rather than the semester, I’m just not as active as I like to be in this class. For me, having concrete deadlines is very important, or I have a hard time getting things done. I find it a little funny that, as a person planning to work with teachers to incorporate technology into their classes, I’m having trouble taking an online class – even one as well-designed as this one.

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2005). Growing by degrees: Online education in the United States, 2005. Needham, MA: Sloan-C. Retrieved on June 24, 2010,, from http://www.sloan-c.org/publications/survey/pdf/growing_by_degrees.pdf

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2010, November). Class Differences: Online Education in the United States, 2010, The Sloan Consortium. http://sloanconsortium.org/sites/default/files/class_differences.pdf

Figlio, D.N., Rush, M., & Yin, L. (2010, June). Is it Live or is it Internet? Experimental Estimates of the Effects of Online Instruction on Student Learning. National Bureau of Economic Research. http://www.nber.org/papers/w16089.pdf?new_window=1

R685: Week Three Reflection

Keeping it short this time, as the readings were a bit sparse this week. E-book and e-reader technology has been something of an area of interest to me for awhile (I think I find myself saying that every week), and I’ve used digital books and papers in every facet of my life: personal, for pleasure reading; professional, for reference (I find it much more convenient to have a searchable database of searchable text than an entire library of manually-indexed paper books); and academic, for classes. I still haven’t made the switch entirely, for a number of reasons.

First, my professors have yet to unilaterally adopt a policy of entirely-online textbooks. I’m very fortunate, however, in that many of my faculty have. This is my fourth semester in graduate school and I have collected a grand total of seven books – or eight, if you count the one that I had previously purchased for an undergraduate class and then kept. Another of those eight textbooks is a book that I purchased a paper copy of for an undergraduate class, then sold back, and then ended up needing again as a graduate student (though there WAS an updated edition). I’ve noticed that even many of my faculty who prefer to grade hard-copies of assignments are switching to electronic materials, freely available via one of IU’s many systems (eReserves, the Oncourse Resources section, etc.). As an IT professional and student at IU I also have access to Books 24×7, a database of technical textbooks, and that has been immensely useful in preventing my cubicle shelves from being clogged down with reference books (I prefer to use that space for tchotchkes instead).

And I’m all for that. I don’t feel sanguine, by contrast, about the idea that I might at some point have to purchase access to an e-textbook. Amazon and other companies have repeatedly proven that they are not of the opinion that you “own” digital copies of their media. One example of this: Amazon recently deleted copies of 1984 and Animal House at the request of the copyright holder. The irony of copies of 1984 disappearing down the “memory hole” is a subject for another post entirely – but it illustrates an important reason, I believe, why academia hasn’t more widely adopted digital textbooks. In addition, the lack of a widely available, standard, open format for ebooks is another huge issue. I once purchased a digital copy of a book for a platform not supporting my iPhone, which is the device on which I do most of my e-book reading. I never ended up reading it in that format – instead, I purchased a redundant, analog copy, which I was able to read unfettered by required software and hardware.

Another thing that I don’t think digital reading will ever be able to reproduce is the sheer sensory experience one has when reading a physical, paper book. There’s a smell, a texture, a sound the pages make when you turn them. My favorite book is Pride and Prejudice – I have a beautiful, leather-bound, gilt-edged copy of it that I take out and read about once a year, and for me the aesthetics of the book add to the experience. It even has one of those little sewn-into-the-binding ribbon bookmarks. While I could, theoretically, get an iPad (or whatever device) case that replicates some of these qualities, it’s just not the same: the weight, the thickness, the sounds are all off.

So for now, I stick to only purchasing (which we will define as “paying a set of US dollars for”) physical copies of the books I want to keep. If I’m not paying for it, as I do with a number of e-books (pro-tip: search for amazon free kindle titles. Discover new authors you might not otherwise), I treat it as a library book – something I have borrowed, but do not own. If I might be upset over losing it, I purchase a physical copy. Amazon hasn’t yet perfected the art of invading people’s homes to steal their books back.

….Okay, now go back and read the first sentence of this post. I think it’s time to admit I have a problem! And that’s my reflection for this week: I start out intending to write these clean, concise blog posts topical to the class sessions, and then I get off on tangents upon tangents.

R685: Week Two Tids (no vids!)

The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains – Carr

Money Quote: “The evidence suggested, then, that the distinctive neural pathways of experienced Web users had developed because of their Internet use.”

Reaction: This article makes two points. The first is that frequent internet users have a different neural pathway than inexperienced ones. The study cited suggests that only a few hours of searching was enough to rewire the users’ brains. I guess that’s one way to “alter one’s consciousness.

The second point is that hypertext and mixed-media are making it more difficult for us to move information into long term memory by causing us to switch cognitive tasks at such a high rate. I say: there’s an xkcd for that. I still don’t think the internet is making us dumber, though, as this article seems to suggest.

What I Read – Shirky

Money quote: “In general, there’s no real breaking news that matters to me. I don’t have any alerts or notifications on any piece of software I use. My phone is on silent ring, nothing alerts me when I get a Tweet and my e-mail doesn’t tell me when messages arrive.”

I’m finding that increasingly, when I sit down at the computer, notifications are bothering me more and more. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve switched to a Mac or because I use the Mac specifically for work- and class-related tasks, but I’ve found myself turning off increasing numbers of notifications on this machine. I leave them all enabled on my home computer, a Windows machine, because in general when I am using that computer I am either doing non-urgent work, or “play” type activities like games and instant messaging. I still keep e-mail, IM, and Twitter open, but I find myself referring to them less now, and only at natural stopping points in my daily tasks. I also seem to be getting things done faster than I normally would. I think that’s probably important.

R685 Week 1 Tids & Vids

Over the course of the semester, in addition to participating in class forum discussions, attending synch sessions, and blogging weekly reflections, we’ve been asked to read a number of shorter articles, or “Tidbits,” and watch a few videos. This is my first set of Tids & Vids – I’ll be keeping track here with a sentence or two for each, so that when it comes time to summarize my readings, I can just refer back to these posts rather than trying to remember.

Tids for Week One (just a little late, since I only just decided to keep track here):

Long Live the Web, Berners-Lee

An eloquent article in defense of net neutrality and freedom of information. Very timely. Money quote: “Connections among data exist only within a site. So the more you enter, the more you become locked in. Your social-networking site becomes a central platform—a closed silo of content, and one that does not give you full control over your information in it.”

Given that much of my academic career has centered around new media journalism, this is an issue near and dear to my heart. I agree with Wikileaks in principle, if not always in practice, because I think that once a government stops being afraid of its citizens, it stops being for its citizens. Though I sometimes wish I felt otherwise, I believe that people have a right to know and a duty to report. I’m also a pretty big proponent of net neutrality, though I fear that Comcast winning the right to charge Netflix extra for bandwidth may have been the first outright shot in the war on the open internet.

Reaching the Last Technology Holdouts at the Front of the Classroom – Young

Money quote: “Every semester a lot of professors’ lectures are essentially reruns because many instructors are too busy to upgrade their classroom methods.”
Bonus second money quote: “The least-wired faculty members make the best advocates for high-tech teaching.”

Assessment: I really liked this article, because it confirmed and solidified a couple of nebulous theories I’d been working on. The first was that it’s a definite issue for technology advocates to convince some teachers to adapt to new techniques. Having had the opportunity to discuss teaching with many of my undergraduate faculty, I heard a number of complaints about other faculty who insisted that what was good enough for THEIR teachers was good enough for their students. Sixty years down the line. The second was that you if you can convince someone who previously disagreed with you that thoughtfully-applied technology that supports and extends the curriculum is the way to go, you’ve just made your own biggest proponent.

And one last bonus money quote: “Technology becomes the handmaiden of the change.” The technology should be there to support the curriculum. The technology should not be there INSTEAD OF the curriculum.

Vid for week one:

“Free! Why $0.00 is the Future of Business!” – Anderson

Wow. I read this in the issue of Wired it first ran in, my senior year of college, and I remember thinking that it was one of the most amazing, exciting things to think about. I was, at the time, getting ready to begin my job search, which I conducted a great deal of through freely-available job sites such as Monster. I was looking for an apartment, which I did mostly through various free listings online. I was a burgeoning open-source advocate; I was the first person at my college to recommend people make the switch from Internet Explorer to Firefox.

I sat here for awhile wondering if recent moves by the major ISPs in the country have affected Anderson’s theory any in the last three years. Even with Comcast charging Netflix extra for bandwidth usage and AT&T asking customers to pay an extra fee to have no extra data, just to use it a different way (iPhone users wishing to use their phone as a tethering device must agree to a bandwidth cap if they did not previously have one, then pay an additional fee for no additional bandwidth per month to do so), free is still a huge sales point. So, while I don’t see bandwidth getting too cheap to meter any time soon, I do see free playing a much bigger role in the world. That’s why I remain an open source advocate and enthusiast.

R685: Week Two Reflection

This week’s readings, or at least the three I chose, were very much about fluencies and skills employees entering the workforce need to have, and all about how the current generation is, in many cases, failing to be even adequate at those things straight out of high school – and in some cases, straight out of a four-year degree program. This includes things like “reading and writing in English” – these studies dealt specifically with the United States workforce – and paints something of a grim picture of today’s youth. It doesn’t seem surprising to me, then, that anytime the topic of teaching digital fluency comes up, teachers protest, “But students need real world skills too!”

First of all, there’s that “digital world / real world” thing again. I still hate that thing. Operating a word processing program is every bit as “real” a skill as reading, math, or critical thinking. In fact, I speak from personal experience that increasing my level of digital fluency has made me better at reading comprehension (by way of giving me a lot of interesting text and not very much time to get through it), math (which is super important in a lot of the games I play in a number of different ways – budgeting, timing, spacial relations, etc.), and critical thinking (learning to write in a programming language helped me to think much more logically about problems I need to solve).

Second of all, I don’t recall ever hearing anyone say, “We need to teach our kids less geography and more Facebook,” or, “Euclidean geometry? Nah, let’s teach them wiki markdown instead.” Technology is an opportunity and a potentially very powerful tool, not a threat. I have difficulty understanding why anyone would think of it that way, though. While I may not be a die-hard transhumanist, chasing after the Singularity, I am a typical millennial (just barely, and I make up for it by being a tech geek like you would not believe) in that I put a lot of trust in technology and I get a lot of value out of it. I don’t, however, think of technology as the be-all, end-all panacea. Curriculum has to be in place first; then, you find ways for the technology to support the curriculum. Then, as a bonus on top of a better-delivered learning experience with the core curriculum, students gain a new bit of digital literacy. This seems like a cut-and-dry win to me.

This week I’d like to reflect on how I use Twitter as an effective tool. I post a lot of content – though I’ve only had my account since 2009, rather late for jumping on the bandwagon, I’ve racked up 5,730 tweets posted. I follow as well as post; I’ve managed to connect with a wide variety of people varying from professional comic book bloggers to a bunch of fascinating academic folks in the city of Bloomington to some of my favorite authors (and of course, a smattering of people I’ve actually met in person before having followed them). Using Twitter I’ve managed to connect with a lot of incredibly smart, interesting folks studying things very similar to my interests, or things I just think are neat. Also using Twitter, I’ve found a lot of incredible opportunities for cool projects to participate in, and a venue for discussing just about any of my interests (it’s as simple as including an appropriate #hashtag). In fact, a couple of nights ago I had a short conversation, via Twitter, with one of my favorite authors about LARP costuming. How cool is that? I’m a sucker for personal, genuine communication, and you’d better believe I am incredibly good at spotting the difference between genuine and fake. Oh, and you wouldn’t believe how many great deals local businesses like the Scholar’s Inn Bakehouse (warning: sound!) or Pizza X (warning: even more obnoxious sound!) are posting on Twitter. Plus, being able to get information about those businesses via their Twitter accounts means I never have to accidentally forget to mute my computer before I visit their site and then have a ringing in my ears for several minutes.

R685: Week one reflection

For those of you who have already been reading my blog, I’m going to be blogging here for one of my classes this semester, R685. It’s an online class in the IST program at Indiana University, titled “The World is Open with Web 2.0” and taught by Dr. Curt Bonk.

There are a couple of things I’d like to focus on here in my blog this semester: the first is reflections on the readings from each week, as I’ve realized that I was much wordier in my forum posts for the class than other students seem to be; the second is different Web 2.0 technologies and the way I use them, and the way I have observed teachers using them in classes.

This week I already said quite a bit about the readings, but I’d like to call attention to, and expand upon, two points I made in my class forums. The first is the implicit assumption that one’s online life is different from one’s “real,” or as I like to call it, “analog,” life. I believe that dichotomy is not only a false one, but a harmful one. As I discussed in our class forums:

This is something that I personally find incredibly unhelpful and potentially harmful; it’s a notion that seems to me to be culturally embedded. Personally, even despite the fact that I argue against this dichotomy whenever possible, I still occasionally catch myself speaking in terms of online versus “real life.” As Oblinger (2008) points out, neo-millenials have spent their entire lives growing up with the internet. There has not been a single semester since the advent of Facebook wherein I did not hear cautionary tales about unwise photo postings having negative impact on a person’s professional life; it is my belief that the notion that “online” is not “real” contributes to the phenomenon.

There’s more I’d like to say about this. As a millennial myself, and someone who has been absolutely fascinated by all the things technology can do from a very young age, I spend a lot of time online. For most of my friends, it is the preferred method of conversation, both because we can have multiple simultaneous conversations and thus stay hyperconnected, and because we all prefer to have a log available of our conversations for future clarification. In discussing this topic with my friends, we all reached a consensus that having synchronous and asynchronous textual communication available to us made us better communicators, rather than being detrimental to us. Naturally, digital literacy is important; we all know when it’s time to turn off the laptops and cell phones and just enjoy being in the same room as one another, but at the same time, it’s not unheard of for any of us to pull out a phone at a shared meal for one reason or another.

Personally, I make myself VERY accessible online. I’ve had the same screenname, or a variant thereof, on every site and messaging service I’ve used since 2002: demented_pants (or demented.pants, or dementedpants, as in this domain name). This means that you can look for one of those three text strings on any of the major social networking sites and probably find a hit. I have never seen anyone with a username similar enough to be confused with mine. I consider it my personal “brand” and I develop my online persona in much the same way I develop my analog persona. That is, I try to come across as competent, professional, but above all accessible. I keep in mind at all times that my online life is beyond a doubt tied to my real identity, and it makes me much more thoughtful about the kinds of things I share. For me, online life IS real life, and that’s not a bad thing. By contrast, someone without the same kind of digital literacy as me might look at the “online” versus “real life” dichotomy that is, by this point, culturally embedded, and assume a level of safety that does not exist – leading to embarrassing photos of people in potentially compromising situations. This is one way in which I think our cultural perceptions of online life actually harm people, particularly the neo-millennial generation.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently suggested that today’s generation of youth will have to change their names to escape their digital past. This speaks volumes to me about the number of missed opportunities to teach our learners about digital literacy – perhaps because we haven’t quite figured out yet how to get the message across. I don’t have solutions, just questions.

The second point that came up both in the readings and in the class discussion, which is also a big pet peeve of mine, is the offhand rejection of Wikipedia as a scholarly source. I cannot count the number of papers I’ve written – mostly as an undergraduate, but very few of which scored any lower than an A- – wherein the first place I went to look for reference ideas was not a library catalog, or Google Scholar, but instead to the Wikipedia article on the topic. I never cite Wikipedia as a source, because most faculty refuse to accept it, but strangely I have never once had a comment that suggested a professor even noticed I was pulling references from Wikipedia. This suggests to me, along with statistics I heard in my Computer-Mediated Communication class last semester (factual errors on Wikipedia are corrected in an average of nine minutes), that Wikipedia absolutely CAN be an acceptable scholarly source, as long as the reader knows how to distinguish carefully-researched and -cited material from something without a single citation which could be factually inaccurate. This is another way in which I believe we are not just underserving, but harming our students by ignoring potential lessons about digital literacy that could prove to be very valuable.

So there it is: my big pet peeve from this week’s readings, and then an admission that may scandalize some of my readers and surprise others not at all. I’d love to hear some thoughts and comments!