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 promote it to the market online using different marketing strategies, click here to check out the types of local seo services available for this purpose.

[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

Brian Lang’s Been Digital So Long It Feels Like Print to Me

“Been Digital so long it looks like print to me: text technologies, authorship, and orality”

Brian Lamb
Project Coordinator, Office of Learning Technology, University of British Columbia

Brian will raise questions about particular qualities of digital and paper-based text; redefined notions of authorship and authority online; how the different media direct attention and affect cognition; information overload; and impacts on higher education (teaching, institutional and epistemic authority). He’ll then open the floor for plenty of discussion!

Material information at

Brian’s approach endorses the massive movement to blogs and wikis. But he also acknowledges that the approach to personal publishing raises some difficult questions about authorship, ownership, filtering. Yet those difficult questions also represent opportunities for new work.

Brian points to this useful piece: Jill Walker, [“Weblogs: Learning to Write in the Network”] — an interesting piece on the use of the blogs and teaching students network literacy.

Brian also points to the idea of a “remix” culture that is a major part of the digital world. [Texts, music, images]

He notes that at heart blogging is about the “power of positive narcissism.”

Great talk!

Diana Oblinger at UMW Faculty Academy

This is part of an ongoing series of summaries of, and reactions to, academic technology conferences.

The keynote speaker is Dr. Diana Oblinger, Vice-President of EDUCAUSE and Director of the EDUCAUSE National Learning Infrastructure Initiative.

She centers this talk on the students/learners and the implications of teaching and learning technologies. She uses idea of Net Generation students/learners (digital, connected, experiential, immediate, social).

Their learning preferences include:
Teams (not always group work, but they are social)
Peer-to-peer (learn from each other as readily, if not more readily, than from teachers)
Engagement and experience, visual and kinesthetic learners (much less experience with text, much more tuned into movement and visuals)
Things that matter (need to make material relevant to them)

Students want some technology, but not exclusively technologically focused (i.e., online).

Personal Response Units (clickers) allow concept inventories, engagement assessment, and student involvement in class.

Simulations, online laboratories, working with real world data allows engagement with experiential material, relevant material.

Some experiments look at the use of technology, space and learning. For example, Student-Centered Activities for Large Enrollment Undergraduate Programs ( includes small group work in physics classes.

This generation also has hypertext minds which is a problem at times: Short attention spans, failure to reflect, problems with text literacy, problems with assessing source quality.

Libraries vs. Google as world of information.
[Help to include library resources within CMS like Blackboard.]

What can we do?
–Make learning experiential and interactive
–Consider Peer-to-peer approaches
— Acknowledge significant percentage of non-traditional/adult learners and their need for greater programatic flexibility

Young students were least satisfied with exclusively online courses than compared to Matures (most happy) and Boomers (2nd) and Gen Xs (3rd in happiest).

Next generations (current high schools):
–Cradle to grave e-portfolios
–Not expert users, laptops are tools
–Informal learners
–Prefer internet research to online learning

Teen’s web use
–100% use the web for information
–IM key communication (email too)
–Want new & exciting information from the internet
–Use internet to learn more, communicate, community
–Multitasking is common (web, phone, TV, Radio)

This matters because of neuroplasticity — the brain does reshuffle and rewire based on information and the ways that that information is received.
–Increasing use of visual communication means we need to access some of those approaches.

Remember that these patterns change every 3-4 years.
— Don’t assume that they come from the same environment
— Don’t assume that they understand technology just because they can use it.

Where do we go from here?
Start with: What has changed about our students? [Makeup? Learning preferences?]
What are the options? [New teaching/learning options?]
What should we do?
What is the right balance? [Action vs reflection, Visual vs text, Social vs individual, etc.]
What must we do to be successful? [Remember that this is a group effort — Combine Vision/Leadership, Service Delivery (student, faculty, admin support), Infrastructure (technology and financial), Organization, Process]

“The goal is an organization that is constantly making its future rather than defending its past.”

See also —

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….]