Category Archives: Diverse Learning Experiences

Live blogging?

I’m at day 1 of THATCamp Lehigh Valley at Lehigh University. Walking from parking at Zoellner to Linderman Library covered my exercise for at least today. Seriously, if I studied on campus, I would be fit as a fiddle.

Linderman Library at Lehigh University

Linderman Library at Lehigh University

Anyway, this is boot camp day – the day before the “unconference” – and I specifically signed up to participate due to the availability of a workshop on using WordPress. Though I failed to blog about it (epic fail #678,900, yes I’m counting), I stumbled through a WP- .com-.org-download an audio player-plugin fiasco the other week.  Apparently, I could use a workshop on using WordPress! Get it? ;-)

Here we are at an introduction to WordPress with a room of 75 people simultaneously setting up a personal space. First, this should qualify for Guinness Book in my opinion. Fortunately, I was here early and, as a THATCamp alum, I grabbed a table space. I feel bad for the 70 people furiously lap typing right now. They are superheros.

The differentiation between categories and tags was helpful. I have always had some trouble effectively differentiating between them. Though I never considered adding a home page to change the feel from a blog, that is an interesting idea. I was hoping for a rundown on the whole .com vs. .org thing, but nothing so far. Something tells me that we won’t have time for that, since we didn’t even make it as far as widgets. Maybe later…

Follow-up: I added a news page and reversed the comments. This seems like a much better option than pulling in facebook or twitter feeds that contain a broader range of content, all of which will not be appropriate for this space. I guess the introduction was valuable after all.

Next Day: Reflection on live blogging…

In my attempt to live blog, I did miss some of the speaker’s points. Similar to contributing to Twitter backchannel, my attention was so divided that I couldn’t focus well on any of the individual threads. This is a problem, particularly considering what we know about the cost of switching tasks. Some people seem to do it effectively, but do appearances reflect reality?

With so many simultaneous demands on our attention, written support resources may be even more important these days. With this in mind, I made a request for the session speaker to prepare a document that covers the high points from her presentation. This resource could benefit multitaskers like me as well as camp participants new to WordPress. I see this as a win-win! ;-)

Academic Integrity, Learning Online and My Experience with Exam Proctoring

Every syllabus at my institution contains a statement on Academic Integrity and every new course begins with each student reviewing and acknowledging the general statement that our work will be our own under every circumstance. Even so, since we are online learners and not present in a physical classroom with an instructor, there are a variety of methods used to “keep us honest.” As an example, for the first time in four years as an online student, I recently had to take a proctored exam for my graduate applied statistics course. Based on my own experience, following are my thoughts on exam proctoring as a method to ensure academic integrity in online learning.

In order to take the final exam, students had to secure a qualified proctor. How lucky for me that I live two minutes from a satellite campus with pre-approved proctors, I thought. With a few simple e-mail exchanges, the appointment was made, and my initial belief was that the worst part of this process would be losing a few hours of work time (and pay) due to the proctor’s schedule of availability. I was wrong.

I guess I should start with a disclaimer by admitting that applied statistics was a particularly challenging course for me.  Learning math online – without the benefit of software specifically developed to deliver the content and provide ample opportunities for practice with immediate feedback – is a real challenge, in my opinion. Still, I have been holding my own and my efforts have earned me respectable grades to date. Two midterms in the course were available online and open book/open note with a three-hour time limit. I barely finished the first one and the second one was finished with enough time to check my work. My point here is that the entire three hours were necessary to complete the assessment, at least for me. There was some initial confusion as to whether or not I would use my own equipment in order to have software access, so I showed up for my exam a few minutes early, because I anticipated needing the full three hours to work and I had been told that I could only stay until 6:30. (In retrospect, this could not have been the case since a student came in around 6:30 to begin an exam?)

The exam room where I was taken was just off the main reception area, which is between two sets of exterior doors. My point here is that it is THE main traffic area. The room was no bigger than 8′ x 6′ and there was another student already working at one desk when I entered to sit at the other desk in the room. I had to use my own equipment, so I couldn’t actually sit at the desk and instead had my knees pressed up against a drawer for the three-hour exam period. There was no air flow and I have no idea what the temperature was in there.

The proctor left the door open when she exited and, one point, the noise level of people measuring the wall outside the door for installation of a flat screen monitor and discussing placement with the receptionist at the desk across the room was so loud that I poked my head out the door. “Do you need help?” was her question. “No,” I answered, “but it’s very loud out here.” “Oh,” they said “sorry,” but no reduction in the volume of their conversation occurred. At some point, the other student completed her exam and left the room.  She closed the door behind her and I was grateful.

Not long after, an event that I can only equate to a pep rally began outside the main reception area in the open space. I don’t know what it was, but it involved very loud cheering, clapping, and yelling for at least thirty minutes. I put in my ear buds. I tried to fight the distraction. I tried to stay on task. In the end, I ran out of time and was unable to finish a five point question or review my work. The exam hasn’t been scored yet, but I feel very strongly that my grade on this work is bound to be negatively impacted by the environment in which I had to take it.

Since I had to show my identification to the proctor, my assumption here is that the purpose of using a proctor was simple verification that the student was taking the final exam. Using this method, can the professor actually be certain that only the student took the exam, and at what cost to the student? This method in no way guarantees academic integrity. At any point, I could have made a phone call, used IM or a myriad of other Web 2.0 tools, and gotten outside help on this exam. I didn’t, but not because I couldn’t. That’s my point.

Some professors use webcam monitoring or browser locking software. Some develop exams that don’t allow time for answer searching. I implore the course instructors and designers out there to please consider their students when they select methods to ensure academic integrity. There are many ways to accomplish your goal. Students can control an environment of their choosing, but not an environment that is selected for them. I enjoy learning in a variety of ways and I have taken several courses in a face-to-face classroom over the past four years. In those classes, I have never been expected to take a test under circumstances like these. Unfortunately, I have no recourse after the fact…

Catching up is an illusion…or a delusion.

Saturday’s Lesson

It’s Saturday  morning; well, if you consider 11 am morning. It’s a rare and indulgent opportunity for me to do so, but much-needed after several days of recovering from Octsnowberfest and a nasty virus to boot. There are kids and cats crashed out everywhere and the house is quiet except for the steady fan noise from the pellet stove and my bursts of typing. I have been feeling incredibly overwhelmed lately. My decision to up the ante to full-time status and sign up for #CMC11 and #change11 amidst the rest of a full life and a natural curiosity may not have been my best. Then again, maybe it was…

My inbox has been a real whirlwind since I signed up for #change11 and #CMC11. Then brainysmurf inspired me with a post on keeping up with your inbox and staying organized. As I read through the dailies this morning on #CMC11 and #change11, the phrase “catching up” becomes much larger than the rest in the word cloud forming in my brain. Everybody’s catching up; it almost looks like the “in thing” to do. Why? Why are we catching up? Why do we feel this pressure to do everything? Is it a responsibility to ourselves? Is it a responsibility to others?

Set Yourself FREE!!

Here’s a brave thought. Maybe we’re not catching up. Maybe there is no such thing. Maybe we are right here – at this very moment – doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing and when we are supposed to be doing it. Maybe that is the greatest lesson of all. So, why carry the guilt? Why feel like we owe the world an explanation? Why apologize? When did life become a competition? What does that accomplish? Where would we be if we could just let ourselves be free and open to the experience of the moment – take a picture with our mind of everything seen and felt in a split second and cherish the honesty of it…

What if we turned our confinement into freedom, our chaos into calm, our responsibility into creativity, our guilt into gratitude. Imagine the world we might create then…

This post is for me and for Carol Y. and for my fellow MOOCers…even the silent ones. I know you’re listening and learning. Thank you…

THATCamp Pedagogy 2011 & Vassar College: On a Personal Note

Vassar College

It was a busy three or four days between THATCamp Pedagogy 2011 at Vassar College, homework, work, life – probably just referred to as “the usual” when people ask how it’s going. I took Thursday – my birthday – off from work in an attempt to reduce my over-sized to-do list and it was a productive day overall. Friday, on the other hand, saw a steep decline that began with a lengthy online dialog with a TA over grading errors and ended with a speeding ticket on a New Jersey highway. Some days just work that way…

I had a terrible headache by the time Sunday morning rolled around; likely the result of anxiety and sleep deprivation. I promised myself that I would leave the hotel an hour early that morning so I could walk the gorgeous Vassar campus with my new camera. As I probably should have expected, however, time dwindled. Note to self: if you book a suite with a Jacuzzi in a picturesque locale, plan to leave the textbooks behind – at least the majority of them. The Jacuzzi remained dry and I never even made it out onto the hotel patio to view the passing waterfalls. Epic fail on the R & R front :-\

On a positive note, the Sunday morning weather was perfection and I did take the time to circle the main quad, though I ended up at our morning briefing 20 minutes late. oops! So, a half hour and a few dozen pictures later and my calm had been miraculously restored. I am loving my new Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX100V with Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar 30x Optical Zoom Lens and Full HD 1080 Video from Amazon! Put a camera in my hands and the rest of the world just melts away! It’s amazing how that lens can immediately adjust my focus. ;-) It’s not necessarily that I am a great photographer, but becoming one with the camera is like a system reboot for me.

Being a returning adult student probably makes life more challenging. There is always something or someone that requires your immediate attention with probably a line of other somethings directly behind! My advice is to stop and take some time for yourself; even if the world seems like it is spinning out of control. Immerse yourself in something that you love – something that demands 100% of you. The investment of even the briefest encounter – allowing yourself to go into full-on creativity mode – will be time well spent when you return to the task at hand refreshed and filled with renewed enthusiasm.

I guess I have learned something from #CMC11 after all!

Post THATCamp Pedagogy 2011

First, much gratitude to Matt S. and everyone with the power (you know who you are ;-) ) at Vassar and THATCamp for hosting Pedagogy 2011. Second, my thanks to whoever reviewed applications and stamped me a yes, even though I am not a faculty member serving the traditional higher education student population. Third, thank you to all fellow campers for graciously including me and accepting my differentness. Fourth, my apologies to anyone who actually reads this; I’m certain that it would be better written if I wasn’t fighting exhaustion and cognitive overload. Speaking of that… to those of you who think that I am a crazy multi-tasker – I ain’t got nothin’ on campers. They are simultaneously writing session notes, hacking resources, composing a group bibliography, tweeting back-channel, and participating in a live and lively discussion. WoW. I am totally blown away. Right now, my poor little brain is like Rocky Balboa after the fight – maybe I coulda been a contender…  For now, there are no art museum steps in my plan for the remainder of the day ;-)

I’m gonna pull a Scarlett O’Hara and I’ll think about that tomorrow!

THATCamp Pedagogy Eve

Several months ago, I applied for the opportunity to participate in #THATCamp Pedagogy at Vassar College. THAT stands for The Humanities and Technology Camp and the weekend is an opportunity for open collaboration and information sharing with people looking for new and better ways to use technology in a variety of teaching and learning experiences. I was pretty excited when I received notification of my acceptance. Now that the time is actually here, I’m very excited and a little nervous.

So, to set the tone, I am making a list of hopes for both myself and for the experience. I’m not going to call them goals because I am already about two breaths shy of a total freak-out and I don’t need to add any extra pressure…hahaha.

1. I hope that I am a good community member – an active participant in a cooperative, if not collaborative, environment.

2. I hope that I add value to the experience – that what I contribute is found to be useful in some way to my fellow campers.

3. I hope that I let myself have fun.

4. I hope that the experience rejuvenates and refocuses and refines my own ideas and perspectives and goals.

5. From our first messages, I am already confident that many other campers believe in a learner-centered approach. I hope that I meet a few of them. It would be really great to get to know them :-)

Tomorrow is the big day!

No Significant Difference for Knowledge, but Is There More? THERE SHOULD BE MORE!

It is not difficult to counter the challenges that distance education lacks equivalency to more traditional face-to-face methods in the area of academics, a.k.a. student learning. Distance education is nothing new and there is plenty of published empirical literature on No Significant Difference. Still, when I tell people that I attend Penn State online, I usually get one of a few different looks – confusion, surprise, skepticism. I never considered an online program before Penn State, to be honest, because (at the time) I considered Penn State the only name big enough to cause that pause. I can just see the wheels turning as they work to reconcile their attitudes towards a Penn State education with their attitudes towards an online education. What can I say; there is still much work to be done. For those already working in their chosen field, such precaution may be unwarranted. Those of us looking ahead to graduate programs and mid-life career changes need to work every angle into its most favorable light. That is why I am a defender of distance education. The challenge is not in the providing of proof, it is in the convincing.

Today I read Bill Keller’s OP-ED piece from the October 2 issue of The New York Times, “The University of Wherever.” This was not my first encounter with the news that Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig will take their popular Stanford University “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” course online and make it open access. Thrun, Norvig, Stanford Engineering – these are big names – and there has been quite a bit of open discussion and backchannel dialog on this and other up-and-coming open access learning opportunities in #change11, an open learning experience known as a MOOC (massive open online course) on change at the epicenter of education, learning, and technology. So what is the Stanford name going to do for open access education and what happens when the exchange of tuition $ for credits earned is removed from the higher education equation? Does it matter? Does anybody care? Higher education as a whole ought to be paying attention, but will they? There may be no formal credit for the majority of participants in this course, but what it is not lacking is interest, with well over 100,000 learners worldwide. You can bet that open access advocates will be watching this experiment closely.

So why does a major player like Thrun take on this challenge? Thrun’s motivation is clear; “Literally, we can probably get the same quality of education I teach in class for about 1 to 2 percent of the cost.” Agreed, and in today’s economy, many (most?) can’t afford the romanticized vision of fountains and bell towers and grass-filled quads. Denial is no longer an option. Change is a given. Change, however, does not equate to removal or replacement. Like Thrun, I am not against the traditional residential experience, nor do I imagine a future without the college campus. I have no interest in replacing ivy halls and ivory towers with cinder block warehouses full of server racks. What I am interested in is the creation of distance education that offers the learner a fuller, more robust experience – an experience with built-in opportunities beyond academic achievement. Not the same college experience, not a mirror image of the classroom, but a community experience just the same. A community of learners for social and academic interaction. This is where Thrun and I part ways. John Hennessy, Stanford’s president, goes so far as to say that “there is nothing quite like the give and take of a live community to hone critical thinking, writing and public speaking skills. And it’s not at all clear that online students learn the most important lesson of all: how to keep learning.” Apparently, Hennessy isn’t familiar with No Significant Difference. Both men portray distance learning as a second-rate option and that message only serves to reinforce the stereotype and stigma that advocates (as well as graduates, students, and instructors) are already working to overcome. Regarding Thrun, he believes that the traditional campus experience has many things which cannot be provided online. I whole-heartedly disagree, Sir. It’s not that they CAN’T be provided; it’s that they AREN’T being provided. The difference ought to astound you. If you’re a distance learner, it ought to enrage you.

The question is what to do about it…

Is distance education just a doorway to a degree?