Final report on the ELI (or the organization formerly known as the NLII)

Now that I’m back at home and work, I’ve had a chance to think about my time at the conference a little. My overall sense is that I’m glad I went. I had a great time getting to know some of my fellow MW colleagues better, seeing New Orleans, and getting a glimpse of new technology, much of it with usable applications for the classroom.

In numbered points, the valuable lessons I learned in those three days are:

1. Never take a flight that leaves from Terminal G. Any time the shuttle bus drives past the place where broken people movers go to die, you’ve gone too far.

2. Mary Washington has a proactive IT leadership that is actively and unusually engaged in supporting the integration of faculty, pedagogy, technology infrastructure, and informational technology experts.

Case in point: Sending to this conference an adminstrator of DoIT, 3 professors and an ITS. No other school there had that kind of diversity of background, and almost everyone I talked to from other places were impressed by the idea of having faculty (especially non-CS faculty) and IT people talking . [Actually several were amazed at the way we all got along. That indicates a kind of fundamental animosity between faculty and IT at many institutions that thankfully doesn’t seem prevalent at our school.]

3. When I talked to people about the work that Jerry Slezak and I have done in teaching history students in my courses about how to build significant research-based web sites, people were intrigued by the idea, interested in the process, and jealous that we had the backing of a school that had committed resources to truly integrating technology and pedagogy in realistic ways.

In fact, several people indicated that they would love to see a presentation on the topic at next year’s conference; hopefully Jerry and I can make that happen.

4. Before you go to your Terminal G flight, stop at a real restaurant (one you’ve heard of) to get breakfast, because all you’ll get at Terminal G, is a slightly warmed, greasy, day-old pizza.

5. Watching others get inspired is nearly as much fun and as rewarding as being inspired yourself.

6. A rather large number of people recognized the name of our school and commented on how impressed they were with our IT leadership. Personal contacts matter, and they are the first step in building a much stronger national presence for the school itself.

7. The Horizon report issued by the NLII was the perfect close for the conference for me. Rapid five minute examples of the 6 key technologies that are coming in the next five years(which I blogged about before) only hammered home the possibilities of technology in (and out of) the classroom. [See the report at]

8. Finally, people at many of the sessions (especially faculty) argued about whether the arrival of new technologies in and out of the classroom was a good thing. For me, more important than judging those changes good or bad, was the assumption among all parties that those changes are coming. Perhaps they’re wrong about the speed and/or direction of some or all those changes, but it seems better to prepare proactively rather than bemoan them.

For what it’s worth, those are my thoughts.

NLII — Part III — ELI — Part I

So, I’m sitting in the last session of the NLII national conference. This session is about the transformative technology that is on the near Horizon. It looks at six technologies that will likely be transforming the educational experience in the near future (meaning the next five years).

This may be the most helpful session I’ve been to at this conference (if not the most inspirational). It provides a practical warning/heads-up that these technologies are coming, many of which our students are interested in, if not already using.

Extended Learning is coming in one year or less, although some professors have already begun. Working outside the classroom enabled by technology.

Ubiquitous wireless is coming in one year or less, if not already here in a variety of forms. After all, I’m writing this blog from my laptop in the midst of a session. No wires for power or for access. This has incredible potential for shaping the experiences of the classroom and even in breaking down the traditional classroom format.

Intelligent Searching is coming in 2 to 3 years. This is the idea that there needs to be significantly better ways to search the vast amount of information. “Old” methods of searching (Google, Yahoo, etc.) are becoming more intelligent, more focused (Lookout, Google Scholar) or changing methods of visualizing the web’s information (Grokker, Web Brain, KartOO). Metadata tagging and graphical searching are also increasingly being made available.

Educational Gaming is coming in 2 to 3 years and provides a new way (although long promised) to use gaming technology and immersive environments in order to figure out ways of explorative learning. Using the Unreal environment or other map-building programs in games allows one to build immersive and/or historical online communities. Edutainment games are also ways of involving students of all ages from children through adults in fun, yet educational ways.

Context-Aware Computing and Augmented Reality are four to five years away — CAC is using information from sensors about the environment to be better informed about that environment. Can be seen in distributed sensor networks that might track lightening, or “Tribbles,” interactive machines that respond to touch and light. Augmented reality refers to overlays of information that overlay the world around the user. Might include SmartBoard type technology that one could draw on the board and create an environment that the computer transforms into a working environment.

Social Networks and Knowledge Webs are four to five years away. Not so much a technology, this is a phenomena. Neither of them are new; existed for a long time. What is new is that tools are beginning to emerge to facilitate the way that these two ideas operate. For example, Social networking programs like Tribe, friendster, flickr,, dodgeball (last is a cell phone program that notifies people when their friends are in the geographical area). Knowledge Webs like CAS, Sakai, NSDL, and Pachyderm are just beginning to bring knowledge together.

All of these are great ideas and I’m excited about the possibilities for my teaching. I just wish I had the time to implement all or some of them. Ah well, one last meal in New Orleans and we’re off to the airport.

NLII — Part II

OK, so now the NLII is going to become the ELI — EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. I like it in that it seems less initially confusing than the NLII title. But I also like it in that it focuses our attention on the students, which it is easy to forget in the midst of attempts to build up one’s “tech infrastructure”.

As important as the focus on students is however (and I do believe that’s key), I guess I’m also interested in them addressing issues of barriers to faculty involvement. For example, untenured faculty members may be more concerned about making technological pedagogy more valued in the eyes of tenure committees.


It seems appropriate that my first real post comes from a conference on the use of technology in higher education. NLII stands for the National Learning Infrastructure Initiative, and is a wing of EDUCAUSE, an organization dedicated to the integrating of higher education, pedagogy and technology.

This is the second day of the conference, although Steve G. and I got here after all of the sessions yesterday due to “mechanical difficulties” on our flight from DC.

New Orleans is great, but we’ve spent all day inside, so we haven’t seen much. [This is the first conference I’ve been to that has food at every break. It’s good food, but 1) you don’t get out to the local eateries and 2) you eat WAY too much. ]

Anyway, on to the conference itself. It’s been interesting, but also overwhelming. I’ve been familiar with most of the technology that’s available to higher education (wikis, blogs, blackboard/WebCT, wireless and/or mobile communications/web surfing, etc.). What’s overwhelming is partly the language of “technified” educational theory (which at times seems worse than Dilbert’s worst business language), and partly the way that the discussions in these sessions, almost without fail, breaks down into a dichotomous response from the academics in the audience. First, there are those who are concerned that the addition of pervasive technology will ruin the classroom and the pedagogical experience (and weaken or completely remove their control over their classrooms, their curriculum and their students). The second group includes those who seem to think that technology is the answer to everything. They have a tendency to tell members of the first group that they need to suck it up since their world is going to change anyway and there is nothing to do but accept it.

Not surprisingly, I feel like there has to be some middle ground. [And that perhaps these two groups agree on a number of important things, e.g., the complete transformation of the higher educational experience, that we still have to wait and see.] As a historian of technology, I’m also very skeptical of any prediction of the future. [More later….]