The implications of an on-demand future

Almost every morning when I get into the car to take my 3-year old daughter to day care she asks me to play “Puff the Magic Dragon” for her on my MP3 player. [I do have thousands of other songs, but she never seems to want to hear Son Volt or U2.]

This repetitious request by children for the same song over and over is the bane of many a parent’s existence (and perhaps the jackhammer between sanity and insanity). That is, the repetition of children’s songs is not a new experience.

However, it’s begun a thought that’s been rattling in my brain (along with the chorus to Puff) about the delivery of media today and its effect on society, children in particular.

My daughter also always has children’s shows to watch because my wife and I have Tivo’ed a number of them and can play them on demand (well, not literally, since we try to limit her TV watching time, but you get my point).

Sure, other parents have played Puff on CD or cassette tape (or probably 8-track), and they’ve got VHS or DVD versions of their kids’ favorite shows and movies, but it seems to me there is
a fundamental psychological difference to children between getting a tape or cassette or DVD out to put in and play, and just using a couple of button presses on a screen or click-wheel to start exactly what she wants. Will this raise her expectations? Will she demand information and entertainment to just appear with a few clicks? Yes, of course she will.

And so will our students.

“Quit, Complain, or Innovate”?

This title come from a post on the reliable Will Richardson’s Weblogg-ed. Though most of the post is positive and forward-looking, the title clearly reflects a sense among many people about the choices surrounding the implications and impact of new technology in education.

Yet as my institution grapples with the implications of a new president who has asked the faculty to be forward-thinking, creative, and innovative, I wonder if this same sentiment is an appropriate description of our curricular and institutional choices (and I think some of my colleagues fear it’s our future).

Now, to be honest, among faculty, quitting is rarely an option, at least in the form of leaving one’s job, since the market is so tight right now, especially if one has roots of family and friends in a particularly geographic region. However, there’s quitting and then there’s quitting.

Complaining is always an option of faculty. [Some might say it’s an area that we’ve claimed and reclaimed over and over.] Still, despite succumbing to this myself at times, it’s hard for me to see this as the only option. [Does this have to be a single choice? Can’t I do both? Well, why not!? — See how easy it is for complaining to start? And how quickly it turns into whining, which is even worse.]

So that leaves us with innovate. To me this is exciting, exhausting, invigorating, and downright scary. What we do with this is left to us (though likely with significant leadership from our administration). We have to live with it. But we also have to live with ourselves, our students and our institution if we don’t change things now, if we don’t adapt, if we don’t look towards the future of higher education and learning in general….

Podcasting Lectures–Some thoughts

Steve and Jerry have both been writing about the idea of podcasting lectures.

I think part of what faculty members don’t say when they flinch back from the idea of posting their lectures (as notes, full text, or podcasts) is that they are afraid that their lectures will be revealed to be less polished, less original, less important than their published scholarship.

However, we need to also be careful about dismissing the concerns about people not coming to class (and certainly there are ways to address that). But I’ve had a number of conversations with students who have told me (confidentially…) that if there were podcasts or lecture notes that they would come to class much less, or not at all, even if they took the hit for class participation. [I might add that some institutions of higher ed discourage or even prohibit professors from requring attendance.]

I would also add that if one runs a truly interactive lecture, then students are missing a great deal by not being there to participate in that process. Like it or not, posted materials suggests that active learning is less important than passive learning (even if the hope is that posting such materials would result in a more active engagement with the material).

I understand the appeal that broadening the podcasting or vidcasting of lecture series to all class lectures might have. But remember, most of those lectures in something like Great Lives required weeks of preparation by those scholars for one 75-minute presentation. The harsh reality is that most class lectures are composed in an hour or two and don’t come close to the quality in content, presentation and delivery of a formal lecture.

None of this is to reject the premise of podcasting lectures, but merely to explain that such a process should be undertaken carefully, especially for junior faculty members who have their professional reputations (and future employment) to consider.

“Teachers as Learners”–An Initial Response

Will at has an amazing post (“Teachers as Learners”) that I’m still trying to figure out an appropriate response to that goes beyond, “Yes, that’s it. That’s what I’ve been trying to say….” Here’s the most relevant paragraph.

In a world where knowledge is scarce (and I know I’m using that phrase an awful lot these days), I can see why we needed teachers to be, well, teachers. But here’s what I’m wondering: in a world where knowledge is abundant, is that still the case? In a world where, if we have access, we can find what we need to know, doesn’t a teacher’s role fundamentally change? Isn’t it more important that the adults we put into the rooms with our kids be learners first? Real, continual learners? Real models for the practice of learning? People who make learning transparent and really become a part of the community?

This notion of teachers constantly learning, of modeling for students a notion of the process of learning is incredibly appealing to me. It’s part of why I’ve created 11 different courses in 5 years, and why I have several more waiting to pop out when I have time and opportunity to do them. Not because I want to impart wisdom to my students, but because I want to share with them the excitement I feel when creating a new vibrant course, when learning more about a topic and figuring out how to share that process with them. That excitement for learning is why I have several scholarly projects on the backburner, waiting for my last project to finish. It’s why I find so many of the posts of my blogger colleagues Gardner and Steve so provocative and evocative of all I wish to do.

Okay, so I have plenty of passion, but to what end? Look for future posts for more thoughts on this….

Faculty Academy 2006

I’m struck by how many people are here at the Faculty Academy this year. Several high-level adminstrators, and probably 80-90 people attending. That’s great and I hope that it’s a sign of a larger, broader committment on the part of the faculty and staff to the ideas (and openness) espoused here.

Blogging and Me

So, I stood up and said in front of many people at Faculty Academy that I’m a reluctant blogger in part because of concern about tenure. It’s something I’ve said to Steve and Gardner a number of times, but never in public (and in front of the Rector of the Board of Visitors, the Dean of Academic Affairs, and the Dean of CGPS, as well as at least one member of the tenure committee).

The Post That Was, Then Wasn’t, Then Was Again

This post was originally written in February, posted, and then I removed it, out of concerns about 1) how it would be perceived and 2) how it had been written in a moment (moments?) of frustration. I have been persuaded to repost it now, though my concerns remain.

Having done student web site projects (on the history and impact of a piece of American technology) three times now over the last four years, I suppose I should have realized that the specifics of the technological side of the approach (using Netscape Composer and a limited amount of hard coding to build research-based web projects) was getting long in the tooth. What I get is that HTML coding is no longer a relevant/marketable skill to our students.

I’m not planning on teaching the class in which I’ve done this assignment again until Spring of 2007–which both gives Jerry Slezak, my building’s ITS, and I more time to figure this out, but also more time for things to change–yet I still have a number of concerns about completely ditching the old system that may add something to this conversation on Patrick Gosetti-Murrayjohn’s blog (or it may just reveal my own biases).

1) Having to completely ditch something (assignments, guidelines, rubrics) Jerry and I spent an immense amount of time creating does not make me eager to adopt something else brand new (especially from a new company that may not be around the next time I teach the class). The reluctance some faculty have for embracing new technology may partly come from a sense that that technology is constantly something new (and therefore a sense that an instructor will be at square one every time they teach a new class).

[I am aware that I wouldn’t be literally at square one, but it feels like it sometimes. That feeling can be paralyzing (or at least discouraging of new attempts).]

2) I’m not convinced a wiki or a content management system (especially not knowing what that CMS would look like) will meet all of my expectations for what I had hoped the web projects were doing before.

Just so we’re clear on my (perhaps unreasonable) goals, they were (and are) based in the idea that I want to provide students with a chance:

–To learn a new way to present ideas, while adhering to the idea that all serious historical scholarship must be thoroughly cited with footnotes (or endnotes) and a bibliography.

–To learn the components of reliable online sources

–To produce original, available online works of scholarly research that would be intellectually accessible and interesting to other students and web surfers. Ideally these projects would improve—one web site at a time—the quality of information available on the web. I would emphasize that this focus on a scholarly approach is essential to my understanding of the value of this assignment. (And I would add that I think that wikis/blogs are seen by many members of my discipline as unscholarly, at least for now.)

–To create a process imitatible by other disciplines

–To provide history majors with a new skill set that they were not getting within our current curriculum. Ideally this skill set would make them more marketable when looking for jobs or applying to graduate schools. [Although HTML or Netscape Composer skills are less relevant than they were three years ago, certainly I think the ability to think about and present information in the digital realm remains important.]

–To think about what it would mean to write and create for a larger audience than just their instructor.

Now, obviously, some of these goals could be met through a wiki or a blog or a content management system. But, could I count on that medium to be (relatively) stable?

Maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way and I should just be focusing on how to get students to think in new ways. Maybe the problem is with my desire to not have to completely rethink my approach every time I teach a class….

Bryan Alexander’s Talk on Wireless

“wireless and mobile computing”

Bryan Alexander
co-director, center for educational technology, middlebury college

The combination of wireless technology and mobile computing is resulting in escalating transformations of the educational world. The question is, how are the wireless, mobile technologies affecting the learning environment, pedagogy, and campus life? To answer this question, we must assess the current state of affairs, surveying cyberculture globally and historically. We must consider the United States only peripherally, since it lags behind other parts of the world in several key trends. And we must carefully examine the wireless, mobile learning experience as it rapidly develops, doing our best to grasp emergent trends.

Bryan’s presentation is an interesting and fascinating approach to the wireless world. See his blogged presentation notes at

Afternoon Faculty Presentations Session

“iPods and Intercollegiate Debate: Coaching on the Go!”
Tim O’Donnell, Director of Debate, University of mary washington

Tim was

“looking for feedback on preliminary plans to rollout a systematic iPod program for intercollegiate debaters in Fall 2005. This is very much a work-in-progress. This presentation will sketch a preliminary vision for managing and coaching the debate program through the iPod.”

Tim is comtemplating using iPods to:
1) organize briefing references in centralized location
2) convey information to the
3) Podcast Tim’s coaching advice on particular teams and particular judges
4) Record all debates for the season
5) Students can record their own arguments to share with teammates

1) Security of podcasts
2) Microphone issues