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More Presentation Fun

It’s only a draft, folks, but here’s the video intro for tomorrow night’s freshman orientation session on “The Pitfalls and Pinnacles of Social Networking.” (I always imagine saying that title with a lot of reverb behind my voice.)

It really needs some music. Big thanks to Shannon for coming over to DATLAT after hours to help out!!

P.S. I’m too lazy to figure out why I can’t get the movie oriented correctly. And my blog is so lame I don’t have any YouTube plugins. Maybe I should head on over to umwblogs. . . Just installed Anarchy — hope this does the trick. . .

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/0RDxKHzDLp8" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Presentation Space: Welcome New UMW Faculty

It’s a presentation-filled week for us in DTLT. Tomorrow we’ve got two hours with new incoming faculty to talk to them about our division and the work we do at the University. On Friday we’ve got three sessions with new freshman: two smaller afternoon sessions will be devoted to introducing them to free, web-based tools that they can use and a larger session in the evening is titled “The Pitfalls and Pinnacles of Social Networking.” The jury’s still out on what that larger session is going to involve. If nothing else, we’re giving away some cool prizes and, hopefully, going to talk about social networking sites in a non-fear-mongerish way. We’ll let you know how it goes. . .

The session with new faculty tomorrow will have two parts. During the second hour, we’ve invited several current faculty members to come and talk about projects we’ve worked on with them. The point is not just to demonstrate innovative uses of technology for teaching and learning but also to talk to new faculty about the kind of collaboration these projects entail and the process we go through when working together. We did something similar last year, and it worked well.

For the first part of the session, I volunteered to spend 45 minutes or so talking to the new faculty about low-threshold technologies that we use and recommend (sort of the faculty version of what we’re doing with freshman on Friday). Last year, this part of the session was a whirlwind tour of emerging technologies (sort of our own version of the NMC Five Mintues of Fame). I sensed that this might have been too overwhelming at the time — not sure why; just a sense I got. This year, I thought we’d take a different tack and stick to easy-to-adopt technology recommendations that can be built into something bigger.

As I prepare for tomorrow, I REALLY didn’t want to put together any kind of Powerpoint to present from, so I thought I’d just throw up a blog post and use this as the central point of command, especially for links. Then, I can point them to this space if they need a refresher later. (It’s also important to mention that Jim Groom and our student aide, Joe, have been working on another persistent resource for the freshman session on Friday — a resource which we actually hope will morph into something bigger. I don’t think it will be ready for primetime by tomorrow, but it will ultimately be more polished than my random post. I’ll update with a link when it’s done.)

So, here goes. . . Continue reading Presentation Space: Welcome New UMW Faculty

A Brief Creative Interlude

Originally uploaded by Martha Grace
We’re all getting ready for a bunch of presentations this week, including a session with all incoming freshmen on Friday night about social networking.

I took about 15 minutes today and put this together. I have no idea if we’ll use it (not sure if it works with the rest of our plans for that session), but it was fun.

In doing so, I found didbygraham‘s Flickr collection which includes lots of great CC pulp fiction-y images. This image started with one from his collection: http://flickr.com/photos/didbygraham/1161000009/

The Dark Underbelly of IT at the University?

I want to talk about a strange irony that I’ve been thinking about lately. It has to do with the ways in which information technologies — and all the wonderful things they afford us — may have actually, somewhat indirectly, encouraged universities and colleges into a “zone of safety” that, ultimately, may be spelling the demise of these institutions.

Bear with me. I know that sounds a little dire. I’ve been told I have a flair for the dramatic, and I’m done fighting it. 😉

What I’m interested in, on a very basic, level is data. I would suggest that it was about 20 years ago that University administrations really began to realize that technology could help them be more efficient and responsive to their student clients, and, as a result, they began to invest in information systems, first main-frame based and more recently of the data center variety. With those systems, suddenly the University had tools at it’s disposal to start collecting all kinds of information about all kinds of things — students, faculty, classes and enrollment, scheduling, institutional projects, the list goes on and on.

I’ve noticed a funny thing happens when people realize they can gather data; they automatically assume they should. And when institutions are the ones doing the data collection, they automatically assume they should use that data to become better businesses. Even if being a “business” isn’t their core mission.

I look around at some of the things that I think plague higher education:

* a greater emphasis on careerism rather than education
* valuing courses over people (and the connections between them)
* creating curriculum based on maintaining course enrollments rather than building a culture of learning
* marketing universities with information about how long it takes to graduate, how many graduates land jobs, and the latest ranking in US News and World Report rather than finding ways to expose the life of teaching, learning, and research at the University and letting that speak for itself

I start to wonder how many of these decisions have been enabled by some well-meaning administrator’s analysis of data using the latest, greatest tool for data analysis.

Now, I’m not arguing that collecting data is bad. I’m definitely not saying that. I’m also not arguing that analyzing data is bad.

Rather, I’m concerned that our analysis of all of that data and information isn’t happening in the context of an ongoing, rigorous, creative conversation about the mission of higher education. We should collect the data, we should use the data, but sometimes we should be brave enough to say “Data be damned! Let’s do the right thing.”

A few weeks ago I was listening to an episode of the podcast “Ockham’s Razor” in which Australian scientist John Bradshaw discussed his experience of getting a PhD at Cambridge 40 years ago. He described how he was able to rig up a lab to do detailed analysis of photographs we was taking of subjects’ eyes (he was analyzing their irises) in the basement of a building that his department had just acquired. He didn’t ask for permission. His advisor never even know about his arrangement until he turned in his thesis two years later:

That’s how things often happened in Britain in those days, laissez-faire, sink-or-swim, all very different from the carefully civilised apprenticeship closely integrated into the lab’s overall strategic plans, of the modern science PhD, often with a committee of supervisors closely following, and often squabbling over a student’s progress. Nowadays, graduate students are more of a work-horse whose success is hardly less important to their supervisors’ careers than it is to their own. However certain personalities, such as my own, take well to being left free to explore the world of science in their own way and in their own time. That cellar was just great!

It may be a stretch, but I think this anecdote is related to my sense that we’re allowing ourselves to over-engineer the experience of getting an education — and often we’re doing it on the back of the data that we’re collecting and carefully analyzing.

I worry that we’re so busy making sure we’re doing what’s strategically right according to that data that we’re forgetting about the role that play, serrendipity, imagination, risk, and even failure can and should play in education.

And for me, as someone who works with technology and works to promote the transformative effect it can have on teaching, learning, and research, it intrigues me that the flip side is that technology’s integration into the University may have led us down this path.

A Humble Request for Input and Suggestions

We’ve got two presentations looming in DTLT for which I’m looking for suggestions.

The first is a one-hour presentation (which we’ll be doing twice) for incoming freshman that we’ll be offering (concurrently with a number of other sessions offered by UMW departments) on the Friday before classes start. We’ve settled on the general idea of showcasing free, (primarly) web-based tools that we think all students should know about. This is sort of an attempt at introducing the toolkit we used with Steve’s globalization freshman seminar last fall. So, we’re planning on showcasing toolks like Flickr, del.icio.us, bloglines, and wordpress.com. But, we’d like to expand our offerings, and I’d love to have folks contribute to this quick-and-dirty wiki that I’ve set up for gathering ideas (PW: techtools).

Our summer student aide, Joe, is going to take on the task of creating a persistent resource (Web site) that gathers and presents information about all of these tools (and perhaps ones we can’t fit into our allotted time). I’d like to think of this as the start of a “student outreach” piece for DTLT, since so much of our work with students is “limited” by the mediation of our interaction with faculty. That’s not a bad thing, per say, but I think we’ve got an important message that it would be nice to sometimes take directly to the students themselves.

The second presentation will be that Friday night. We’re scheduled for 75 minutes in the University auditorium to talk to the entire, incoming freshman class. The basic focus of that session is “Social Networking Technologies and Today’s University Students.” The idea for this was sparked by a meeting of last year’s TLT Fellows, in which we discussed Tracy Mitrano’s article, “A Wider World: Youth, Privacy, and Social Networking Technologies.”

When it came time to plan Orientation this spring, we were tapped to frame this larger presentation around some of the ideas in that article and any broader issues about the implications of social networking on the life of the University student that we want to talk about. In keeping with Mitrano’s article, this will not be a fear-mongering session about the perils and pitfalls of social networking. Rather, we’re trying to imagine a way to have a “healthy,” (is that an awful word, or what) balanced, engaging conversation (with 800 students) about how social networking tools can foster connections and engagement that might actually have some interesting implications for the practice of education.

As I write this, I’m fully realizing that it’s going to be a challenge to present something that is entertaining but also encourages deep thinking about the ways in which students engage with their lives online — particularly for an audience of that size. We don’t have the answers yet, but we’ll work hard to find them before August 24th. To that end, if you’ve got any ideas, thoughts, or suggestions about this presentation, we’d love to hear them. Feel free to comment here.

We’re thinking about using this larger presentation to showcase a project that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Sparked by a scene in the TV show My Name is Earl, I’ve been thinking for quite some time that it would be interesting to start a collection of clips and scenes from film and TV that directly or indirectly deal with the use of technology for teaching and learning. We’re working on generating a list of ideas for this, and we’re hoping to spend some portion of the 75 minute presentation showcasing those clips (We’ll have to figure out how to work that into the social networking theme, but I’m sure we can make that work). So, I’ve set up a second quick-and-dirty wiki for anyone who’d like to contribute ideas on that project. (PW: techclips) Assuming we can operate within the parameters of fair use, we’ll make available the short clips we capture, if anyone else is interested in using them.

Update: I’ve added passwords for the wikis above. For some reason, I had the recollection that when I’ve created public PBwikis in the past, I didn’t need to give people a password. But, I was wrong. Ooops!

A Highland Adventure

For a while, I’ve been admiring Barbara Ganley‘s ability to use her blog as as space to pull together threads from so many aspects of her life and work. In that spirit, after just spending a week pretty much off the grid in West Virginia, I thought I’d take a brief interlude to reflect on that experience. . .

A few weeks ago (days before Faculty Academy — what was I THINKING), my husband and I decided to take the plunge and finally get the puppy we’ve been talking about getting since, oh, as long as I can remember. He’s taking the summer off from teaching to tackle some projects around the house, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to introduce a new member to our small family (plus, there would be more time for training and undivided attention).

Enter Kila, the German Shorthaired Pointer:

Loose Lips

She’s a sweet pup, to be sure, but a handful. And her arrival on the scene (a bit earlier than we had planned) threw our vacation plans for the summer into a bit of a tailspin. We had been planning a long-anticipated trip back to Montana to visit old friends and haunts, but with Kila in the mix, we needed something closer to home and pet-friendly.

We settled on a cabin in West Virginia, in an area known as the Mountain Highlands. Through the internet we located the North Mountain Cabins. Every time we go through the adventure of finding a travel destination on the internet these days I wonder how people ever did this before the Web. . .

The last few weeks prior to the trip have been a whirlwind of activity at work and at home. We’re deep in summer projects in DTLT and on the homefront, Erik’s been installing hardwood floors and screening in our gazebo (I helped with that one, a little :)). With all the activity, we found ourselves pulling out of the driveway last Sunday with little real knowledge of what we were going to find in the Highlands, no idea of what activities would be 2-year-old and puppy friendly, no real concept of where the closest grocery stores were, and absolutely no clue about whether we’d have internet access.

Ha! Internet access! As it turned out, I was lucky to have cell phone coverage for five minutes a day.

In anticipation that we’d be pretty isolated for the week, I decided the night before the trip to turn on cell phone updates for Twitter. I added additional text messaging to my plan, activated the service, and waited to see what would happen.

As we drove west, the farms of western Virginia gave way to the hills of West Virginia, and by the time we hit highway 81, my cell phone had stopped tweeting. Driving through roadcuts on a fancy new highway in WV that goes from nowhere to . . . nowhere, Erik commented that he really needed to take some pictures of the rocks. He managed to hold off until the trip home, showing admirable restraint.

After about two and half hours (and MANY listens to Track 9 on the Cold Mountain soundtrack — my daughter’s favorite), we reached our cabin. It was nestled on a small hill overlooking a horse pasture.


In between feeding the horses carrots and lounging around on the back deck eating blueberries and sampling the local beer, we took several hikes. It’s been a couple of years since we’ve been out on the trail, and it felt great. Madigan took to her pack like a trooper (even deigning to take a nap or two).

Trail Napping.

I often speak about the “good” kind of pain that I associate with hiking — similar to the “good” kind of pain that I associate with writing. It can hurt like hell, but it’s worth every minute, particularly when the view at the end is great:


Meanwhile, in between drives from our cabin to Seneca Rocks, Dolly Sods, Petersburg, Franklin, and Spruce Knob, I would for a minute or two find myself in cell range, and my phone would start vibrating like crazy. In those brief moments, I’d get 70 tweets or so downloaded, and, then, before I could possibly text a response of my own, the signal would be gone and the phone would go silent.

I found myself furiously reading through those small, fleeting digital offerings. I also started experiencing a weird sense of time shifting. Since I could only get about 70 tweets before filling up the pathetically small memory on my pathetically out-dated phone (While reading up on some features before the trip, I discovered on Cingular’s site that my model is considered “obsolete.” Ouch.), I was always a few days behind my Twitter friends. It was like living in two time zones. On Thursday I was reading about Monday’s activities. And when I managed to sneak a tweet in on Tuesday, it wasn’t until Friday that I finally received a response. I actually started to feel a little uncertain about whether or not time had somehow sped up or slowed down for me . . . Then, on the drive home, as the cell signal strengthened and tweets started arriving more regularly, I watched as those two time zones sort of re-aligned. Time caught up, the tweets slowed down, and the conversation started to match the clock. (At the same time, I felt weirdly disappointed when the twittering evened out. There had been a certain rush to getting all that digital juice in one big, 70-message gulp.)

Aside from hiking, driving, and twitter gulping, I did catch up on some long overdue reading. The only book I managed to finish was Rebekah Nelson’s “My Freshman Year.” If you work in higher education, you should probably read this book. While it’s by no means a definitive or comprehensive anthropological study of the college student (Nelson doesn’t claim it is), I think it exposes some critical questions we should be asking ourselves and our students about the mission of higher education.

One of the themes that kept popping out to me as I read (and that also resonated in a recent post of Laura‘s) is the issue of “careerism” and the increasing tendency for students to come away to college or university with preparing for a career as the ultimate goal. There are all kinds of pressures contributing to this trend, but I have a sense that it’s at the heart of a lot of the disconnects we witness between the lofty aspirations of higher education and the actual practices in which students engage.

What’s particularly interesting to me is that I never came to college with “finding a career” as a goal. And that’s not because I didn’t think having a career was important — rather, I was just raised to believe that college was about finding OTHER things: myself, my passions, my strengths. My parents drilled into my head that if I did something I loved, everything else would follow. I don’t think most students have that mindset — or perhaps they don’t have the luxury of that mindset?

In several anecdotes, Nathan highlights how colleges and universities are regularly sending mixed signals to students about what their own mission: are they here to learn/explore/discover/grow? Or are they here to network/build resumes/prepare for tests/learn how to play the system?

In any case, it’s a fascinating (and, honestly, often depressing) read.

On Sunday, we repacked the van and made our way home. This time I couldn’t escape the requisite roadcut stops.

Lens Cap Scale

And, of course, the lens cap is there for scale. As the daughter of a botanist, I grew up with photo albums filled with pictures of flowers and plants next to lens caps. I’m all grown up now (sort of), but now the lens caps just sit next to granite and gneiss. Life is funny, no?

Answering and Asking: The Ronco Question

Next week, my family and I are taking a much-needed vacation. We’ll be holed up in a cabin in West Virginia with (I expect) no internet access and limited cell phone access. I can’t wait; I’m also a little afraid. 🙂

But, before I leave, I’m taking a moment on this blog to reflect upon a project that’s been brewing in the heads and hearts of many at UMW and to ask a number of my colleagues and comrades-in-arms to join in over the next week with their own reflections.

The project is code-named “Ronco.” For the not faint-of-heart, you can read a painfully long transcript of the email exchange that started this all off here. (Read the whole thing, and the meaning of the name “Ronco” will be revealed.) If you make it through that entire text, more power to you. Then move on to Patrick’s imagined use cases. They’re a bit more focused and may help make more sense of the whole thing.

But, right now, in this space, I’m going to take a moment to answer the question “What is Ronco (to Martha)?”

Let me back up first to get a running-start. . .

I have the dubious honor of having kicked off that email discussion with a very early-morning post-Student Academy message in early April, which, on a whim, I forwarded to an informal group of fellow travelers (faculty, students, even the odd administrator), not sure what would happen next. It was cool to see my nocturnal ramblings spark a conversation that was far bigger, deeper, and more compelling than anything I had originally imagined. I’ll take credit for that small spark, but the fire that developed (and continues to develop) was fanned by all the creative, wise people whom I have the pleasure of calling colleagues.

Now, we’ve had a few opportunities to come together as a group and continue to try and pin down the meaning of “Ronco.” The conversations are always inspiring (seriously) and they spin off in many varied and rich directions. At the same time, we’re trying to figure out how to harnass all this creativity into some kind of feasible project that we can begin to tackle his summer.

So, again, what is Ronco? Here’s what I think. Ronco is a set of tools/online environments that allow us to make visible the mind of the University. Originally, I was focussed on one specific tool that I felt would meet a particular need — a Zotero-like device (Firefox plugin?) that a user could use to “capture” any kind of online resource and generate a sort of RSS/XML-feed on steroids. Sick of wondering how to get all the various Web authoring tools and social networking spaces to play nicely together, I wondered what would happen if we just scrapped that approach altogether and built some intelligent, lightweight, browser-based “appliance” that would allow me to cobble together a feed from any spot along my digital trail. (Others have asked if this isn’t del.icio.us. I still don’t *think* so, but I can’t really explain it. At least, not right now, I can’t.)

I’ve got no clue if my original idea holds any water. Frankly, the conversation has spun so much larger at this point, that it doesn’t seem to matter, sometimes. Because now, after spending two-odd months in multiple conversations (large and small) that are “Ronco-enhanced” we’re thinking beyond the tool or appliance. We’re thinking instead about the more conceptual underpinnings behind all of this — underpinnings that our colleagues and cohorts in schools and institutions all over are also mulling over (in some cases, have been mulling over for far longer than us). In particular, they seem to grok this stuff in Canada — what’s with that, huh?

Alright, let me try to re-focus. Sigh.

What is Ronco? Ronco is a set of tools/online environments that allows us to make visible the mind of the University. With the “Ronco Suite for Inspired Minds,” learners and teachers will be able to capture and tag their online travels. Once captured, we’ll then be able to consume those trail markings in a number of rich, visual environments, focussed (as needed) through different lenses. Want to see what all the students in a class are Ronco-ing? Here it is. Want to see all the tags they’re using, in a weighted tag cloud? Here it is. Want to see how that tag cloud relates/corresponds to the one generated by the class down the hall/across campus? Here it is. Want to see how my tag cloud as a freshman compares to my cloud as a senior. Here it is. Want to see just the videos that have been tagged with “adventure?” Here they are, oh, and we’ll present them in a rich Web space that allows you to add your own annotations on top. Why? Because with Ronco, we can!

What else can we do? We can “travel the tags,” journeying across the synapses of the University, uncovering the unspoken, usually unacknowledged connections among English courses and pyschology courses, independent studies and seminar classes, formal and informal learning experiences. Maybe advising fits in here somehow, too, huh?

I think I’m rambling now. . .So, I’ll stop and ask you. What is Ronco? I’m calling you all out. When I return from WV, I hope I’ve got lots to read. . .

Update: Comments are, of course, welcome. But I’d love it even more if you took the conversation back to your own blog and pinged-back. And, while you’re at it (in the sprit of Ronco) use the tag/category “umwronco.” We’ve got plans for that. . .

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Random Notes from “Out of the Cave or Further In”

What follows are really random thoughts/scribblings from the session “Out of the Cave or Further In? The Realities of Second Life” led by Greg Reihman (Lehigh Univ.) at NMC 2007.

* What does the word ‘real’ mean? (what follows are notes from others’ responses) Connections b/w reality and certainty. Notions of norms vs. variability. Tangible. Measurable. Real is about shared experience, intersubjectivity.

* Does it make sense to say that one thing is more real than another? (Probably, but I’m not sure my idea of *how* real something is means anything to anyone other than me. . .)

In the process of defining what is real, we often first must define what we believe is unreal (dreams, illusions, for example).

Read “Circular Ruins” by Borges.

Each of us carries with us a hierarchy of “realness.” Depending on who we are, that heirarchy could be entirely flipped.

Which of these is “more real”:
* A caffeine molecule?
* A cup of coffee?
* The taste of coffee?
* Your memory of this morning’s coffee?
* The cup of coffee unperceived back in your office?
* A cup of coffee in Second Life?

Interesting comment from one audience member (my paraphrase): There is a way in which we can’t distinguish more or less realness in Second Life, the ontology is flat.

Another comment/thought: The verisimilitude of something in SL is what dictates how real it is.

That’s interesting because there’s a way in which this just seems like another kind of flatness. We are no longer debating the realness of the object according to the same difficult questions we deal with in the “real world.” All we care about is the issue of reflection. It’s like we’re not really engaging with the question anymore because of this perceived separateness/otherness/artificiality. . .

Education is about the “ascent into sunlight.” (Plato)

Really interesting slide about the creation of avatars in SL — are we getting further from Plato’s idea of how we should be engaging with our world, or closer. In creating an avatar, we are forced to study form in deeply reflective ways. This really resonates with something I’ve always felt about SL — it fascinates me how people are forced to engage with themselves in creating their own avatars. There is a “confrontation of self” that I find fascinating.

Reihman: SL as a “summoning.”


Blogging Practices

Barbara Ganley’s recent presentation at Faculty Academy about “slow blogging” has me thinking a lot about the practice of blogging.

It occurs to me that we all talk about blogging as though we’re all engaging in the same practice, but I suspect that’s not true.

Let me try to be clearer. I know people have analyzed the genres of blogs before: the link blog, the reflective blog, the cat diary.

But that’s not exacthy what I’m interested in. Maybe the easiest thing would be to pose some questions that get at what I’m trying to understand. If you’re interested in this topic, feel free to comment or pingback your answers.

Generally, are you an impetuous blogger? Or do you mull over an idea or post for hours, days, weeks before hand? Do you draft a post and then let it sit until you’ve had a chance to revise it multiple times, perfecting your language and point?

Do you “collect” the references in your posts before you write them (if so, describe your system)? Or do you blog with 15 windows open, copying and pasting quotes and URLs, as needed?

Do you blog in the admin panel of your blog? Or do you use some third-party tool? If you use a tool, what features does it have that hooked you?

Do you automatically consider placing images in your posts? Or does this not even occur to you, usually?

Do you write posts and then delete them before clicking “Publish?”

Or, by extension, do you have draft posts that have languished for days, weeks, months waiting for you to pull the trigger?

Do you feel compelled to blog on a schedule? Do you feel guilty when you don’t?

Do you “craft” the experience of your blog, adding sidebar widgets and custom graphics to lure readers into your space?

(I think there are more questions I wanted to ask, but I can’t think of them. I’ll update if they come to me later.)

What’s the point? Well, aside from the fact that I want to know everything about you, I actually think it might be revealing to pull apart our blogging practices. Not only does it make us potentially more thoughtful about our own blogging, I think it might change the way we talk about blogging to others — particularly students? How often do we talk about blogging in the context of a class but not talk about the practice. It’s easy to assume that blogging should come naturally — after all, it’s just “writing online.” But, I don’t think it’s that simple. Blogging often represents a presentation of oneself (sometimes personal, sometimes intellectual, sometimes both) that doesn’t come naturally to everyone. And it occurs within a networked context.

Eh. Maybe I’m over-analyzing all of this. . .tell me if you think so.