Designing school when students have the Teacher’s Copy

I’m presenting at the Plymouth State University Open Collab Jump Start session tomorrow and the fine folks there asked for a one pager to accompany the talk. 

We have reached a point in our society where anyone with access to the internet is in the midst of the transition between information scarcity and information abundance. For some that transition looks like the ability to find song lyrics or just-the-right-recipe, but for anyone working in their area of expertise, it has had a huge impact on what it means to be someone who ‘knows’. There’s more to know that anyone legitimately could. There are new ways to look at things coming at us all the time. There are often several legitimate, opposing ways to see the same problem in the same field. 

Covid19 didn’t create any of this, but it has accelerated many people’s perception of it. Access to this knowledge and information comes at a huge cost. We can no longer find an answer and be comforted that our search is finished. We are instead confronted with hundreds of answers and need to choose what to do, choose this one or that one or, more likely, pick bits and pieces from them to build our own answer. Our world is harder.

These changes were already underway before the pandemic, and they have already had a fundamental impact on the way that our students approach learning. The generation currently attending our universities may not be proficient with these new technologies, but they are fundamentally aware of their implication. They know they can google something. They know they can find a great explanation of a concept online. They know they can reach out to a dozen friends with the flick of the thumb and get help with something. They know that all the answers are already online. They already have the teacher’s copy of every textbook. It’s called the Internet.

What is not so clear is what we are going to do about it.

If you give any question to a student that has a clear, definitive answer, you are tempting them to cheat. Every time you hand out a question from a textbook, an assignment you created last year or give someone a multiple choice test you are performing the equivalent of leaving candy on the table next to a hungry teen and saying ‘don’t eat it’. Over and over again. It used to take effort to cheat. It is now very, very difficult for a student to NOT cheat. Two quotes in the last few weeks from students sum this up for me. 

“The people who aren’t cheating simply aren’t getting the better marks”

“I don’t cheat because I don’t care what my final grade is”

There is no topic that has taken up more of my time during the pandemic than the idea of students cheating. From the terrible things that are being done by proctoring companies to both students and to their critics, to honest and sad conversations with faculty who are frustrated that students aren’t doing the work that was assigned. From companies like Chegg and Course Hero (that both have ‘cheating’ resources but also do tutoring etc…) to full-on contract cheating where students are paying outside organizations to do their work taylor-made to the assignments assigned in class. 

We could make those things illegal. Like, in the courts. Some countries have tried… but even some of the researchers looking at legal ways of addressing this issue don’t think it will work “it is not clear that a legal approach would be effective, or that we would even know, or that it would address the demand for contract cheating services.” Trying to stop this kind of cheating is basically fighting a war we will not win. Plus, let’s face it, it’s exhausting. I know faculty that are constantly monitoring for cheating. And they hate it. It’s wasted effort. 

Plus what are we legislating against. We’re creating laws that stop students from looking for information. How does that make sense? The knowledge landscape (abundance) and the audience landscape (our students) have fundamentally changed. And now, because of Covid19, we can all talk about it. As soon as I’m going to say “we can design our way out of this” there are going to be a vocal group of people who say we can’t. Shrug. The other way doesn’t work. We need to try and design our way out of it. 

I’m left with questions…

How do we design for trust?

What are the actual important things we need students to learn in our class?

Are any of us really qualified to say what anyone else ‘needs to know’ about a given field?

If we are only delivering content to our students, what is the value add we are providing as instructors? 

What does it mean to put our relationship with our students at the forefront of our design process? 

What does it mean for our students to be ‘informed’ after they leave our classes?

How much of our system was designed to solve the problem of information scarcity?

If we take out all the parts of our system that were designed for information scarcity… what’s left?

How do we move our focus away from stopping students from cheating and encouraging them to want to do the work?

Is this even possible to make these changes in large classes?

So what do we do for now?

I’m afraid the answer is the same as it was a few months ago. Design with care. Imagine activities that your students will enjoy. Build trust where you can. Be present, even in your assignments. Do longer term-style assignments where your formative feedback applies to their work. Talk to them about why you love what you know. Try to encourage them to care about what you know. Hold on.

———

Just found this tweet from the summer… on trust and care from Simon Thomson. https://twitter.com/digisim/status/1297815044114264064 Feels like it might have influenced this post.

How much ‘work’ should my online course be for me and my students?

How much work is too much (or too little) work for my students? How much work is too much work for my TAs or for me? How do I design an online course? A post where i propose ‘Total Work Hours‘ as a replacement for the Course/Credit Hour.

As we leave behind the emergency teaching processes that have spurred the development of online courses for end-of-term winter and OMG-summer courses the questions I’m hearing are changing. Fall course start in the Northern Hemisphere is still (only) 10 weeks away and I’ve talked to piles of people who are thinking about how they can revamp their f2f courses to create a fair and equitable learning experience for their students and for themselves.

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to leave aside the section of the teaching population that is resisting this move. I would also like to firmly state that NO SESSIONAL/part-time teacher should be moving a course online for free. PAY THEM. The focus of this post is directed at those educators who are doing the hard work of trying to balance the needs of their department, the needs of their students and their own need to not overwork themselves in the fall.

Total Work Hours (TWH)

My recommendation for people planning their courses, is to stop thinking about ‘contact hours’. A contact hour is a constraint that is applied to the learning process because of the organizational need to have people share a space in a building. Also called a credit hour, (particularly for American universities) this has meant, from a workload perspective, that for every in class hour a student is meant to do at least 2 (in some cases 3) hours of study outside of class. Even Cliff Notes agrees with me. So… for a full load, that 30 to 45 Total Work Hours for students per course that you are designing.

But now we’re teaching online. Maybe we’re not even doing synchronous classes. How do we decide how much work to give students? 3 hours of videos plus 6 hours of readings?

I’m not suggesting you need to give students 9 hours of work a week. I’m saying that this is the current system. If you have two 90 minute f2f classes a week, you must have some expectation that students were reading something, working on a paper, or doing something else outside of class. Your first job is to figure out what you want that number to be. For the rest of this post we’re going to pick 6TWHs. It’s a nice number.

Who says we’re even allowed to do that?

The online guidelines from that same US government standards document linked above are interesting…

Distance education means education that uses one or more of the technologies listed in paragraphs (1) through (4) of this definition to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor, either synchronously or asynchronously.

And then…

“in lieu of credit hours or clock hours as a measure of student learning, utilize direct assessment of student learning, or recognize the direct assessment of student learning by others, if such assessment is consistent with the accreditation of the institution or program utilizing the results of the assessment and with the provisions of §668.10.”

So, according to this, basically you can do whatever you want… unless you have specific accreditation guidelines, then you have to follow those.

But even if you do have those guidelines, you still have to translate them to your course. At the end of the day, you are the arbiter of what happens in your classroom, and the expression “recognize the direct assessment of student learning by others” gives you a fair amount of latitude. Let’s go with 6 Total Work Hours.

Scaffolding to 6 TWHs – Activity Method

Those 6 total work hours are going to work out to 90 hours of work over an average term of 15 weeks. (please note, the Carnegie unit wants that to be 120 hours, but we’re going to ignore that). We have 90 hours to work with over the term for a course. How do you want to break that down? It’s going to be drastically different for different courses and styles. But whatever you’re teaching, keep trying to think about it from the perspective of what a student is actually going TO DO.

Simple break down (not quite 90, yes i know)

Watch 3 hours of video* – 5 hours
Read stuff – 20 hours
Listen to me talk – 15 hours
Talk with other students in a group – 15 hours
Write reflections about group chat – 7.5 hours
Respond to other people’s reflections – 7.5 hours
Work on a term paper – 10 hours
Do weekly quiz – 3 hours
Write take home mid-term – 3 hours
Write take home final – 3 hours

A thousand variations of this might be imagined, and there are certainly some of these activities that are going to take less/more time depending on the contexts of each individual student. But imagine being a student (particularly a first year student) and getting a breakdown like this to help you see what you’re supposed to be doing. Don’t like that? Too easy for students? Meh. Don’t give it to them.

note: I haven’t given a mid-term or a final exam in about 10 years, I include them here for reference 🙂

A word on ordering this work in a given week

If you’re using anything that looks like this, a possible structure recommended by one of the faculty we were talking to was – read/watch, quiz, lecture, student group discussion, reflection. The reasoning here is that if you give learners (particularly new learners) a reading without some form of accountability (a quiz) they are much less likely to do it. I know that for me, when I’ve done the readings, I’m far more likely to attend class. Putting the student group discussion after the lecture gives students who can’t attend a synchronous session a chance to review the recording.

Or, i mean, you could just not lecture at all. YMMV.

But what about learning objectives?!?

The history of higher education is replete with successive models designed to improve ‘accountability’ and ‘standardization’ in the classroom. I’m not a big fan to be honest. I recognize that many of you are probably tied down by accreditation standards and may have mandatory targets that you need to reach in your 1st year course so that students can have what they need for their second year course. I get that. For those of you in this situation, I would ask you to imagine what students are actually retaining when they start that second year course. The fact that they ‘need to know it’ doesn’t make it possible for them to do it. Short of curriculum reform (DAVE WE DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THAT NOW), try to stay focus on what it is possible to do, not what we ‘need’ to do.

For those with a bit more freedom, there are a pile of ways to pass that freedom along to your students. The standardization police have been telling us for years that each student must learn the same things. Poppycock. Scaffolding doesn’t mean taking away student choice. There are numerous approaches to allowing a little or a lot of choice into your classes (learner contracts come to mind). Just remember, most students don’t want choice – at first. 12-16 years of training has told them that you the faculty member have something you want them to do and they need to find the trick of it. It will take a while until those students actually believe you want their actual opinion.

You can have a goal like – get them acculturated to the field – and work through your activities to get there. It’s harder, they will need your patience, but once they get their minds around it, it makes things much more interesting.

Teacher workload

I have not found any real standard for how much work a faculty member is supposed to be doing. Putting aside the time it takes to redesign your course, exactly how many hours can you be expected to put into your course every week? How much of that work can you expect from your TAs.

That second question is easy, if your TA is being paid for 45 hours, that’s as many as they are supposed to work. If your design means they run out of hours, you are uh… going to have to do the rest of the grading.

But what do you need to grade? A short weekly quiz should grade itself online if you set it up properly. So that’s taken care of. That term paper above you’re going to have to read. That’s going to take a pile of time if you have 200 students.

My suggestion is simple. Choose the amount of time you are willing to commit to your teaching, and work through your assessments and interactions. Discussions can be peer reviewed or be participation marks. Term papers can be 3 or 30 pages long. What about those office hours?

If you’re teaching four courses for 15 weeks… and you put in 10 hours on each course, how does that break down to each discussion post your respond to? (ten hours is not a formal suggestion btw, it just divides easily by 4) Be honest about the time it will take to do all the things in your plan, a little bit of thinking now will make for a much better December.

Total Work Hours

I’m talking to many folks who are using this crisis moment as an opportunity to consider what we are doing in our classrooms. Our f2f courses have imposed a variety of structures on us (credit hours) that have shaped our teaching. Moving towards the fall, think about the work you think it’s fair for your students to do, think about how much work you can reasonably do – and design accordingly.

Edit: thought i would add this tweet. Notional learning hours. Just got this link from Simon as well https://www.qaa.ac.uk/docs/qaa/quality-code/academic-credit-higher-education-in-england-an-introduction.pdf

* suggestion that 3 hours of video actually takes 5 hours to actually do suggested by my good buddy Ashlyne O’Neil.

Move to Online Learning: 12 Key Ideas

I got asked by a long time colleague if I was willing to do a post of all the things that I’ve learned in the last eight weeks about moving online. Not ’emergency teaching’ but actual lessons about people moving to teaching with the internet. I’ve worked with over 100 faculty at my own institution this past few months, taking them through a 1 week intensive course. I’ve also been in constant contact with folks from around the world both through my interviews on http://oliah.ca and in endless backchannels and side chats. Here’s what I got.

1. Moving to teaching on the internet is not a technology problem (unless you make it one)

In our course we have been treating online teaching as a conceptual problem. There are things that you can do face 2 face (like make groups quickly) that can be super difficult online. There are other things you can do online that simply don’t work face 2 face (see design your activity for the internet a little later in this list). The technology is something you will figure out through repeated use. Don’t worry about it. Just set aside enough time over successive days to use the tech repeatedly and it will come to you. Concentrate on how the internet is different. If you choose to use too many platforms or try to be too fancy, though, your technology could become a problem. Keep it simple.

2. Moving to the internet is about understanding information abundance

One of the critical pieces of conceptual work is adjusting to the idea that your students already have access to all of the precious information you were planning to give them in class. If you’ve asked a yes or no question, or you have asked a ‘complicated’ question that has a fairly recognized answer, your students are going to google the answer to it. As they should. Those of us with access to the internet (through literacy, technological and financial means) can reach out for any piece of information we need by simply searching for it. Our learning experiences need to reflect that.

3. Complicated vs. complex concepts on the internet

I’ve found the distinction between complicated and complex concepts a good way of keeping track of what I’m asking students to do. A complicated concept is one that responds to a step by step answer. Thought of another way, it’s an answer you could copy and paste. Those answers only work in that bubble of artificial scarcity that are our f2f classes. If you’re looking to evaluate a student’s work online, add some complexity. Something that personalizes the issue to the student. Something that brings their perspective to bear. I’m not saying we can’t teach basic concepts that learners need to remember, just make them part of other things that include complexity if you want to do an assessment.

4. Learning to evaluate good/bad information on the internet is a core skill in any field.

One of the big objections to embracing that giant, complex abundance of information is that students wont know what is good information and what is bad information. This is true. But learning how to find, evaluate and combine information in any field is a critical skill right now. We can’t protect them from the internet. They need to learn how to deal with it.

Our students are going to need more than information to address the challenges they’re facing. They need to be innovators, problem solvers, and strategic thinkers. You may not have had time to include those kinds of activities in your classes before. But now that your students have all of the information, think about how you can address some of these higher order thinking skills.

5. Pedagogies of care (for students and teachers)

We’ve always needed to take time to care for ourselves and our students. One of the challenges of moving online is that we need to consciously think about how we are to ‘care’ for our students. A smile in the classroom can mean a great deal to our students. How are you going to incorporate that caring in your messages? In your videos? In how you design assignments? At the same time, our face 2 face schools also wrap some sanity around how much work we do as teachers. How can we balance the care that we are giving to our students and the care we are giving to ourselves? Imagine what you do the first five minutes of class (smiles, check-ins) and think about ways to do that online.

6. Think of ‘content’ as ‘teacher presence’

One of the concepts we’ve found useful is in thinking about everything a teacher does as teacher presence. In a f2f classroom the work that we do, dropping a comment in a discussion group or explaining a complex concept are conceptually different from a textbook or an assignment. Online all of this stuff combines into your ‘presence’. There is usually a direct relationship between your perceived presence and student engagement. I say perceived presence, because you need to let students know you’re there… simply reading their comments in a discussion forum and not saying anything doesn’t let students know that you’re present. You need to ‘be present’ the same way you need to ‘pay attention’. It’s an action.

You can easily write one post responding to all the posts on a given subject, highlighting themes and correcting misconceptions. Less duplication for you, and it still shows students that you’re involved.

7. Keep it simple

This is the first of the three messages from http://k12.oliah.ca about how to move to working online. I had a great discussion with one of the science faculty members in our course this week and he was saying that he realized he had to stop ‘covering the content’. He’s always kind of suspected that he was going over too many concepts in his class and that students weren’t getting them. In his move online, he’s focusing on far fewer concepts and digging much deeper. Keep it simple. Focus on the stuff that’s important.

8. Keep it equitable and accessible

This is part access, part care and all about thinking about your context. The accessibility issues that your students have are not going away because they are working from home. Using UDL approaches in your learning and working with student support staff is critical.

Online learning increases the impact of economic disparity on the classroom. If you don’t have a dedicated computer in your house, you are going to struggle to participate in a synchronous activity. You are going to struggle multitasking on a phone or tablet. Many students would go TO SCHOOL, or the library, or McDonald’s to get access to consistent wifi. They may not be able to do this. Think about different ways you can design your assignments to allow for students to complete them in multiple ways. This video does an excellent job of talking through this concept.

9. Keep it engaging

One of the biggest concerns I’ve heard from people moving online is that they struggle to get students to do the work face 2 face, how are they going to get students to do the work online. Part of helping students be engaged is to create the scaffolding they need to understand HOW to be ready to do the work. If you’re assigning readings before a class, give them a 200 word reflection to hand in the day before. Scaffolding doesn’t mean you oversimplify the material, it means you structure the workload, particularly at first, and then maybe reduce that scaffolding as learners get comfortable. If you’re moving away from Multiple choice questions because they don’t work online (and they mostly don’t) you’ll need to apply this scaffolding to let them know what success looks like.

Also. You need to be interesting. If you’ve recorded a super long video to send to students, force yourself to watch it first. When you get bored and want to turn it off… cut your video and send that. 🙂 Imagine yourself as a student. Really work through what the student experience is going to be.

10. Design activities for what the web can do for you.

This concept seems to be helpful to people thinking about the advantages of teaching online. If you’re going to have an essay or a project or any kind of long term work with students, think of those projects as an iterative process. If you were doing this face 2 face, you might have them submit something halfway through the term. You might even get them to journal in a workbook that they hand in to you and that you hand back. It’s an organizational nightmare. Online you can create any number of spaces where learners can check in and post their progress. The web is very good at keeping track of student work for you. It also makes it very easy for students to share with each other.

For this to work, you can’t think of grading EVERYTHING. Setting up discussion for students and having them submit ‘their five favourite posts’ can be a great way to keep discussion open and also introduce curation.

11. Gather resources together… together

Please don’t try and do this alone. YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE TRYING TO DO THIS. IT IS NOT A COMPETITION. Don’t try to create all your resources alone. Don’t try and learn alone. Don’t try to find your resources alone. Make a team. At your school or with others. Here are a few lists of resources.

List of resources about teaching online
List of virtual labs
List of review of online tools for teaching (The Open Page)
Online Learning in a Hurry
#OTT20 ONLINE TEACHING TUESDAYS (Drop in discussion)

There are tons of Open Education Resources (OER) out there you can use. It takes a while. And some deep searching… searching with a team will make it much faster.

12. Last note: If you’re helping someone else

People don’t need to understand the technical language of design. They just need to understand why they need to do what you’re talking to them about.

Online Learning Resources for people moving online in a hurry.

Before our Friday online teaching class I tweeted out a request for suggestions for the ONE THING that people would send someone if they were moving online for the first time.

The response was amazing. There are so many great educators out there doing good work right now, and so much good work that’s been done that is super useful to the situation we are all in. I have made an attempt to grab some of these links and put a little context around them so that people can skim through them. It’s the least I could do. Many folks delete their tweets nowadays, and looking through a twitter thread can be exhausting. I’m sorry if I missed your tweet. You can just add it to the end of the doc. I’ll check occasionally and sort them.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Rz4qjMRLA9dVx2ExxTwBg1FtXMVh5ruQMQTs4eG3_oc/edit#

And just in case you were wondering about video… here’s a list of providers of simple video. Haven’t gotten a chance to break this one down yet. Maybe next week 🙂

Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Broken_glass.jpg

Teaching Online Teaching Online – a one week course (lessons learned)

(see previous post for more design info)

It seems I struck a bit of a chord with my fellow educators as I sat in my basement at about 7am trying to figure out how to fix the design of the course I’ve been working on with my colleagues at the Office of Open Learning at the University of Windsor.

The task is a daunting one. It kind of reminds me of mandatory tech training that Bonnie and I have offered in k12. Here are a group of smart people, who have spent their lives teaching, who you need to make very uncomfortable before they are going to start feeling comfortable again. Those people expected me to show them how to make the machine go PING! and I was there talking to them about abundance and complexity. Exact same scenario this time. Day 1 feedback was (not entirely, but enough) “We didn’t even learn to DO anything!”

Plus. We had to do it online. Teaching online learning online is hard. Just sayin’.

We did make some adjustments based on that (and other) feedback. We reorganized what we were going to do on day 3 and 5. I’m going to do my best here to record the lessons that we learned in the first week. I will say… they are hopeful lessons to me. While exhausting, it was probably the most rewarding week of my educational career. I am left, once again, very thankful to Nick Baker for allowing us (and probably defending me in all kinds of meetings) to stick to our guns and do the course this way.

Conceptual work

Affodances of online spaces

I have a starting premise in doing this kind of work that there is no definitive research in education. I know people tell me I’m wrong, but it might as well be true when we’re working with people who are mostly not going to dig into the research. I can find research to support pretty much any position in education, I mostly chose not to for this course. YMMV

We started by introducing the idea of affordances. The internet fundamentally changes what is possible when it comes to learning. When we were still under the tyranny of paper, our access to diversity of perspective was hugely limited. Our ability to be flexible in what we were going to teach and learn were limited to the texts we could order into our classrooms and the things crammed in the heads of the learners and the teacher.

This has changed.

Information is now abundant. It provides an amazing opportunity to allow learning to be something that emerges from people outside of the textbook/teacher/student nexus.

The tool we used to contextualize this abundance is Dave Snowden’s distinction between the complicated and the complex. In situations that are complicated, it makes total sense to just go identify a resource (a person/text/video etc…) that can explain the step by step, complicated concept. When things are complex, however, the abundance of the internet provides an amazing swath of opportunities.

The third day we talked about how working in digital spaces is fundamentally different. We need to consider how we communicate our humanity- what is a smile in an online course? We need to think about how to give instructions so that they provide context. Martin Weller talked about how setting up roles in a group might take 5 minutes in a live classroom but might take a week when working asynchronously.

We talked about how some things are done better asynchronously than synchronously online. If you’re just going to be telling someone something, record it, send them a paper or something. No need to have someone live just listening to you.

We also talked a ton about different ways to communicate ideas.

The last day we talked a great deal about doing formative and summative assessments online. How with formative assessment you need to find a way to see people’s work early and often (by using iterative assignments for instance) so that you can provide formative help. In a f2f classroom you might be doing that all the time without realizing it, online you need to be more deliberate about it.

We talked about the weakness of online spaces for summative assessment, particularly for MCQ style summative assessment. We talked about the technical, pedagogical and ethical challenges of doing that and what alternatives might be considered to get there.

On the asynchronous days we encouraged people to think about how they syllabus was being constructed.

  • How to do introductions.
  • How to work with the library to get resources
  • How to think about your curriculum
  • Thinking about the connection between content and assessment in digital spaces
  • How to provide group feedback

The technology

While I definitely believe that the concepts are more important, digital spaces are, well, digital. The design of the course has learners doing assignments, discussion board work, working in collaborate, doing tests etc… all while discussing the concepts (in Blackboard). The idea is to give people practical experience using the tools so that when they search/ask for advice, they have the context that they need. We’re NOT going to have time in a one week course to teach people how to fix the settings in the gradebook.

Breakout groups

We did 3 3-hour live sessions. They were exhausting. But we did do some guided breakout groups. We actually broke them out into groups of five and had facilitators guide people through the process of search for Creative Commons images and resources. Those went well. We also used the breakout groups to let people process their feelings about the #onlinepivot. People are upset. It’s important they get a chance to be heard.

Other notes

  • We need to work harder to make better use of the asynchronous days
  • We need to make it MORE clear EARLY that we aren’t ‘explaining technology’
  • I modelled ‘establishing a social contract’ excessively. Made my
  • I performed a number of different models and approaches to show how you could work with students
  • We did a TON of live slides.
  • We talked a bunch about teacher presence
  • We took the opportunity to say ‘contact your librarian’ every day
  • We kept giving them the links to campus supports
  • We created a take away with all our key concepts, links on them
  • We provided ‘extra resources’ for those who were more advanced and wanted more stuff
  • I linked them to a bunch of http://oliah.ca videos.

Key outcome

They got it. In one week people went from being nervous, sure they were going to do 2 hour live lectures every week and thinking they wanted to make the machine go PING! to thinking about how they could have a great class online. Like they really got it. We treated them like smart people, told them they were going to have to figure out the tech, supported them as much as we possible could and talked all day about pedagogies of care… and they got it.

I mean. I’m sure some of them had that coming in… but there were people who made the whole transition. It was a long week of late night and early morning planning with Alicia, Ashlyne and Nick… but we made it. Looking forward to editing our design this week. I’ll post the final version after we refine it.

Good luck peeps.

Online Learning in a Hurry – a Course in a Hurry

When i started doing the videos for #oliah I was trying to put into words the things I’ve learned about working online. Many of those were hard lessons learned from experience, more of them are lessons that i’ve learned from the excellent educators and students I’ve had the privilege of working with in the last 20 years or so. The video series isn’t really intended to directly prepare someone for teaching on the internet, but rather put some concepts together so that someone can round out their preparedness.

Now, however, we at UWindsor Office of Open Learning (OOL) find ourselves facing the idea of ‘teaching teachers to teach online,’ not for few final weeks of emergency remote teaching, but for a term. At least. Tomorrow we start a course for faculty moving their courses online for our Spring/Summer session.

There are other people more qualified, definitely, and more reflexive, probably, to try and create a course for people who now have the need to go and teach online in what remains a hurry… but here we are. Fortunately this course won’t just be designed or taught by me: all my OOL colleagues have been supporting faculty flat out since the #pivot began, and together we’re a committed course team. Shout out in particular to co-designers Ashlyne O’Neil and Alicia Higgison, who’ve led the course idea from the get-go. Thanks, dudes.

We’ve been wracking our brains for right place to start. Should we be trying to swing for the fences? Do we want to start with comfortable certainty to bring people onside or push people with new concepts to set a tone of uncertainty, making room for growth? Do we come out technical or conceptual?

Ultimately, we end up coming back to what I always advise other people to do and find SO hard to do myself – examining our collective goals. So here’s a quick lay-out of our plan for the UWindsor Online Learning in a Hurry course.

(Caveat: the course is a collective effort, but this blog post is from my perspective and my colleagues are not to blame for any dumb stuff in here.)

Thinking about Goals

So… I don’t know the people who are going to be taking this course. I mean, I probably know a couple of them, but broadly speaking, I don’t know them as people. I don’t know what their level of Internetness will be. I don’t know how they feel about what education is. Some will likely be sessionals and some will be 30 year faculty members. The one thing they all will likely share, is that they have to teach someone in the Spring session online. That… is soon.

The course itself is going to happen in Blackboard (our institutional LMS). That decision is taken out of my hands… but I probably would have chosen to do this anyway. No need to insert another point of complexity at this point. The work we are going to do in Blackboard over the 5 day course will do most of what’s needed to give them a sense of what is possible in the platform… though I wont be ‘teaching’ any of the technology. We have great people doing blackboard support on campus and I’m a big believer in people learning the tech for themselves.

I want this course to be conceptual and the technology to be incidental

So. That decision made, the question becomes – what are the concepts that I think I’m going to want to include. I say ‘think’ because I only really script out the first day. I’ll see after day one how things are going, where the learners fit on the various spectrums of literacies and skills, and how much I think we can actually do together.

The ‘design’ of the course

I am NOT an instructional designer. I have designed a great deal of instruction, but, the same way that baking doesn’t make me a baker, designing instruction doesn’t make me an ID (hence the scare quotes in the section title). That being said, I’m more than happy to impose my own conceptual conceits upon my fellow teachers. The course is setup as follows –

Synchronous times, Mon/Wed/Fri – 9-12. Each synchronous session is broken into two blocks. They are (currently) titled as follows

  1. Introduction to Online learning
  2. Thinking through course goals online
  3. Finding content (includes learner/web as content)
  4. Creating content (includes lecture/text etc…)
  5. Assignments and assessments
  6. The student experience (reflection on their experience in the course and what that tells them about how students will experience it.

Blocks

Each of the blocks is designed as follows:

  1. Opening mini lectures establishing common language and concepts (Blackboard collaborate) 15min
  2. Break out groups for faculty to discuss with other faculty (they will be keeping notes on a powerpoint that will be used for feedback in the main group) 15min
  3. Feedback (using the slides created by the faculty in the breakout groups) 15min
  4. Assignment (submission of assignment using blackboard assignments) 45min
  5. Participants uncomfortable with the assignment can stay back in the live session for further direction. Participants may return early to discuss issues in greater depth until next block starts.

Asynchronous days Tuesday and Thursday

The asynchronous days will involve some options for content and some challenging questions for use in the discussion forums. Participants will be encouraged to both start threads in the discussion forum and respond to other participants. The first asynchronous day our contributed content will be this contribution sent to me on twitter by @thestacylynn http://libguides.lehman.edu/oer and this video we recorded with our excellent librarian friend Scott Cowan.

That first lecture

I think i basically want to do four things in the introductory lecture… which is probably too many, but why stop now? The first think I want to do is give them a fair idea of what they can expect form the course. If they’re expecting me to teach them which button to press to make the machine go ping… they are going to be very disappointed. so…

Introduce the social contract (both for this course and as a concept)

The second thing i want to do is introduce the distinction between complicated and complex ways of knowing. This is a distinction I’ve written about on this blog a 100 times, stolen from Dave Snowden, and I find it a critical concept to introduce in education. There are some things that are step by step things that you need to know – those are complicated. There are other things that no one really agrees about, but everyone in a given field of knowledge have a sense or (or an opinion about) those are complex. When we teach we inevitably do some of each. Online… they are very different beasts.

Introduce the distinction between complicated and complex

The third thing I want to introduce is the concept of information abundance. Working on the internet breaks the wall of control that a faculty member has over the knowledge in a course. Our education system and our face to face classrooms were designed for a world of information scarcity, where a student needed to come to class to acquire the knowledge in a faculty members head. We now have limitless ways of acquiring information, some of it good, some of it not so much. Teaching online allows for us to integrate this new reality into our teaching

Introduce the idea of information scarcity and abundance

The last thing i want to do is address the human concerns that the participants are likely having about teaching online. I’ll do a couple of live slides, an approach i’ve been using for years, to allow the participants to reflect on their own thoughts and concerns regarding their upcoming teaching assignment. I’ll ask them what they are concerned about teaching online as well as what opportunities they see.

Give learners a chance to process their feelings… introduce student created content through liveslides

Group Discussion

This is a simple breakout group where faculty will be discussing the questions brought up in the liveslides. I want to give them a real chance to talk about their concerns. In order to make sure we’ve got that feedback, we’re going to have other OOL staff in each of the breakout groups keep notes on a powerpoint deck, each facilitator using one slide per question per group. When we all come back to the main room, I’ll lead a discussion based on the notes on that slide deck by using a screenshare of the shared powerpoint deck. We’ll have support in those breakout rooms for the second part of day one, but allow it to be participant lead for the Wed and Fri instances.

Assignment

The assignment submissions are going to an iterative version of a new syllabus. The first submission will just be a word doc with some headings (and their name on it) and after that we’ll start to include new things each day. From an assignment perspective, the work is to keep adding to a syllabus based on realizations that learners are picking up each day.

Tests

We’re also going to use the testing module for participant feedback. I like to offer lots of opportunity to do learner feedback and this seems like a nice way for participants to experience what a student experiences using the testing section of blackboard.

Goals

So after all that… what are my goals for the course? I want participants to experience an online course that is more than videos and MCQ. I want them to experience the difference between a live structured learning experience and an asynchronous open ended learning experience. I want them to get some sense of how many options there are for communicating their field to learners, and think about what impact that has on what and how to assess. I want them to come out of the course with a start on their syllabus for the spring with some ideas about how they are going to imagine their Spring student, and think about what they can do to make that learner’s experience a safe and interesting experience.

Making Sourdough Bread… the lazy way.

I have a bit of a problem. Once I get an idea in my head, I tend to want to get to the bottom of it. This fall I decided I wanted to make sourdough bread. I wasn’t able to follow any particular recipe online because, well, I didn’t know enough about bread. I also wanted a recipe that allowed me to be super lazy about it. I am no baker… but now I can make bread. So here’s what I ended up with.


I made 7 or 8 breads that were – not perfect. They started out flat. I only threw one of them out but they all basically tasted good. Number 9 was nice and puffy. A half dozen people have followed these directions and have made good bread. I encourage you in the belief that bread is more art than science. Differences in water, in the yeast in your starter… it will all impact your bread.

If you don’t have starter… or don’t know what that means, please go to the starter section at the bottom of the post. Otherwise, go ahead and give it a shot. These instructions are meant to be followed by people who don’t know anything about bread. Lemme know if something needs more explanation.

8am (ish)

Mix 115 grams of Whole Wheat Flour and 115 grams of water into the starter in the morning (maybe a little more if i’m making more bread)

5pm (ish)

  • In my mixer (or by hand or whatever. In a bowl dammit)
    230 gm of starter
    650 gm of water (blood temp)
    1000 gm of bread flour
    Salt (i use two small cupped handfulls… maybe two large tablespoons?)
  • Mix it until combined. Note: we are not kneading this.
    Let sit 30-60 min

6pm (ish)

  • Put a thin film of water on the counter.
  • Dump the dough onto the counter, sticky side up
  • Get your hands wet
  • Get your dough scraper wet
  • Stretch the dough 12-15 times
  • (stretching instructions are here https://youtu.be/vmb0wWKITBQ?t=417 you should really watch this video)
  • Shape it into a ball
  • Let sit (covered in container) 2 hours

8pm (ish)

  • Put a thin film of water on the counter.
  • Dump the dough onto the counter, sticky side up
  • Get your hands wet
  • Get your dough scraper wet
  • Stretch the dough 4-5 times
  • Shape it into a ball
  • Let sit (covered in container) 2 hours

10pm (ish)

  • Put flour on your counter and on the top of your dough while its still in the container
  • Dump the dough onto the counter, sticky side up
  • Cut dough in half, stretch dough 4-5 times
  • Make into two bread shaped balls.
  • Let sit side by side (covered by towel on counter) one hour

11pm (ish)

  • Put flour in your dough shaping container (i use a banneton, you can use a bowl)
  • Shape dough, put in container sticky side up (banneton/bowl/bread thingy)
  • Place, uncovered, in the fridge

Next day, maybe the day after. At whatever time.

  • Preheat oven and dutch oven to 510 degrees. I put my dutch oven in the oven with the cover off slightly. I don’t really know why. (about half an hour)
  • I also put a cooking stone under my dutch oven to deflect the heat. I find that the direct heat over cooks my bottom crust.
  • After its heated, remove cover from dutch oven. (it will, you know, be hot)
  • Dump bread out of container onto semolina covered baking sheet. Hope it doesn’t stick. If it sticks, you didn’t create enough of a skin in the stretching phase.
  • Slice bread at random, maybe 1cm to half an inch deep along the bread
  • Put in oven immediately. No dawdling. Move it.
  • Put the cover back on the dutch oven. Cook 22 minutes
  • Remove the bread from the dutch oven and put it back in the oven naked.
  • Let cook 5 or 10 or more minutes.
  • Keep checking the bread until you’re happy with the crust.
  • Then, you know, take it out of the oven.

Notes

Blood temperature water – i test the temperature of water with my fingers, i’m looking for the water to be about my body temperature.
Proving temperature – Apparently if you prove at room temperature, less sour. If you prove at 80 degrees, more sour. https://brodandtaylor.com/make-sourdough-more-sour/
Pizza dough – I basically use this same recipe (with olive oil added and some super heavy kneeding at the start) to make pizza dough. Put it in the fridge COVERED on day 1, and take it out 2 hours before using.

Starter

  • Well. The easiest thing to do is get some from someone. You can also make your own.
  • Get a big glass jar with a closing lid, remove the rubber seal.
  • Add equal parts of water and flour (maybe 50grams or each…i used whole wheat) for about ten days, dumping parts of it out of the jar so that it doesn’t overflow.
  • You are done when your starter doubles in about 6-8 hours.

What is education’s responsibility to society? An open, futures course

The short version: JOIN!

George Siemens and I are hosting a two week futures-style Open Course starting April 15th on the SSHRC challenge “Truth under Fire in a Post-Fact World,” and the question of how education should respond. You can sign up by joining this mailing list. 🙂

The longer version: JOIN! (online or in August)

After years of doing digital strategy off the side of my desk, it is now – finally – in my actual job title. One of the first thing I got to do was help design a summer event that would allow us to think about education in a different way. We chose to do a futures inspired institute. This open course gives us a chance to try out the model and learn a little bit more about what’s possible before the institute this summer.

Ever since I helped edit Bonnie Stewart’s Masters thesis Techknowledge: Literate Practice And The Digital World in 1998, I’ve been compelled by the intersection of technology and knowledge. In the twenty years since I’ve been involved in any number of discussions about what we should do with this new technology we have, whether we call it the Internet, the digital, or the database. The affordances of these technologies mean that information has gone from a scarce resource to an abundant resource. Our ability to cast information out to and connect with our fellow humans is both amazing and terrifying. Surely this means that people who are in the business of ‘learning’ are going to have to change their approach. At least slightly.

And we’re in the business of education – though we don’t all necessarily agree what that is. I hope, at the very least, that education is about preparing people with what they need to live in our world. We’ve not always been fair about how we go about that, and I’m not suggesting that we’ve been without other intents, but mostly, almost all of the time, our education systems are about getting people ready.

Ready for what? Well… that depends on who you are. If you are thinking we’re getting people ready for future jobs, I will happily send you to Benjamin Doxdator’s blog post again, and then we can all agree that’s a red herring. ANY discussion about what education is FOR leads us either to platitudes like “for learning” or, more contentiously, to a dark place where people start to dig out their own personal perspectives on what a ‘good society’ would look like and how we can normativize our students to that vision. We aren’t going to agree.

Some people take a different approach to thinking about how these new technologies are going to change our schools. In the newly released Horizon Report – Teaching and Learning Edition, we see extended conversations about how Virtual and Augmented reality are going to impact education. There is talk about analytics, instructional design and adaptive learning. I mean, there are five pages devoted to our broader societal issues, but the real meat of the document relates to the technology and how it is impacting us.

What I’m interested in getting at, however, is how the technology – how the abundance of information and connection that results for that technology – is impacting OUR SOCIETY and what we, as educators, should be doing about it. This, to me, is the core of the digital strategy that I want to do. And, with this in mind, I am proposing a trial run. An open course that takes a first stab at a model that allows us to attack this deeply complex and, from my perspective, critical conversation regarding our education system. What does our education system need to do, not in some nebulous overarching sense, not ‘with that VR headset’, but to address ‘this particular societal issue’.

In the futures conversations I’ve facilitated (or participated in) the major obstacle is getting the trends part of the futures discussion done. In some cases you might not have the right people in the room, and trends you get might not be directed at your issue. You might have too many of the right people in the room, and all the time is spent debating how many angels can dance on the head of a VR headset. With this in mind, I’ve decided to try to build on someone else’s trends, and allow us to get right to the business of working with futures.

The work that I’m proposing to use belongs to Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. It is, necessarily, Canadian Flavoured. The work was done with Canada in mind and does not, sadly, have significant examples from the Global South…or the US, or Asia. I recognize this limitation. However, the work is excellent as it is, and forms a starting point that can hopefully be filled in by participants from other contexts.

The open course

Ten years ago I did a MOOC with George Siemens called ‘Ed Futures’. When I was thinking of hosting another short, open course, doing another event with George seemed like a nice bookend.

(Don’t tell George, but I’ve always considered him one of the smartest people in the field, and, as may be useful for the purposes of this course, we *rarely* agree regarding the field of education…so it’ll likely be lively.)

I used the word ‘host’ earlier deliberately. This course will not be taught by George or I. We are looking to host a conversation, and test out a model for futures discussions that will, hopefully, be an interesting way of looking at how we do strategy for education. This model was originally designed for the institute the Office of Open Learning is looking to host in the summer, but with the COVID19 situation, any group activity planned for the summer is uncertain. I think this online attempt, moreover, will give us a chance at broader input from more disparate sources. That can’t help but give us a better strategic view by the time it’s all over.

There are still many details about how we hope this will work that are up in the air at this point. Broadly speaking, we’ll work from the SSHRC societal challenge in a futures-ish kinda way. I have some ideas about how this can be done in a distributed way, but I’ll leave that for the next blog post. Suffice it to say that participants will be encouraged to follow a futures model in order to help inform us all regarding the different ways that we, as educators, can adapt our policies, approaches and practices for a world where facts are increasingly difficult to pin down.

We need to strategize for an education system that can solve – or at least address – our societal problems. Join us in April: let’s see if we can start a conversation that can help do that.

Thinking about what education was for… 3800 year ago.

As any long suffering reader of this blog will be aware, I have a bit of a thing for the history of education. What I’ve always been curious about are what concepts of ‘what it means to learn’ and ‘what education is for’ are baked deep into our cultural understanding of formal education. I believe that there are bits and pieces dragging around behind our notions of school that profoundly impact and sometimes inhibit what we can do with the giant normativizing system so many of us care about.

First, a little background

My latest point of curiosity has been the schools (they’re called eduba) in Mesopotamia, let’s say between 2500BCE and 500 BCE. There are lots of reasons to love this time period. For one, we are talking about the part of the world that the Greeks probably stole the most from (unless you want to argue Minoan or Egyptian civilization… but, as I’m currently obsessed with Mesopotamian history, I’m going to go ahead and believe what I want).

This period and location is amazing to think about because of how they wrote things down. Sumerian Cuneiform is one of the oldest written languages on record. The internet might even tell you it’s the oldest one we know of, but let’s not fight. It’s really damn old. This is what it looks like

Cuneiform – 2400BCE. It changed over time.

And what makes it so cool is that cuneiform was mostly written in clay. It’s mostly written on clay tablets. What happens to papyrus when the vagaries of time trample it and burn it? It burns. What happens to clay when it gets burnt? IT GETS HARDER. Upshot of it is, we have lots and lots of it.

I have been listening to a series of excellent lectures about Mesopotamia by Professor Amanda H. Podany on The Great Courses (through Audible) and I’ve been totally captivated by it. I have been particularly interested in the places where its been made clear that we know PILES of stuff about how they actually taught students in this time period. Because of the tablets. Also because ‘school literature’ was a writing genre. Most about how terrible it was to go to school and how much students were hit by their teachers.

Getting to the education bit

Now, Nippur was a city smack dab in the middle of Mesopotamia. And we’re going to zero in on one house (House F in fact) in the middle of this ancient city. Most of what is written in this next part comes from Eleanor Robson’s article about “The Tablet House”. While most of the houses that have been excavated in Nippur contain a variety of different tablets, the mixture of tablets in House F were a little different. There were way more tablets designed for teaching people how to write than there were tablets about how many beer they had bought.

So. We have what most experts think is a schoolhouse, from 1740BCE, that is still full of many of the materials that were used by the students who actually studied in it. Researchers have broadly separated the education practices of learners from this period into two categories – beginner and advanced. A beginner would learn how to hold a stylus, how to make the necessary shapes, and then what order of shapes respond to what words. And advanced student memorized and practiced writing a variety of old stories, hymns and other cultural pieces. All carved into clay tablets. Thousands upon thousands of which have survived. The following, for instance, is one researcher’s perspective on the order of elementary education.

The all time classic for advanced students would be stories of Gilgamesh (though if i’m right, House F would be before the story of Gilgamesh had been pulled together into one tale). I do not wish to point you to Gilgamesh, though it might just be my favourite story, instead, I will point you to the fight between the Hoe and the Plough It’s all kinds of awesome.

“7-19 The Hoe having engaged in a dispute with the Plough, the Hoe addressed the Plough: “Plough, you draw furrows — what does your furrowing matter to me? You break clods — what does your clod-breaking matter to me? When water overflows you cannot dam it up. You cannot fill baskets with earth. You cannot spread out clay to make bricks. You cannot lay foundations or build a house. You cannot strengthen an old wall’s base. You cannot put a roof on a good man’s house. Plough, you cannot straighten the town squares. Plough, you draw furrows — what does your furrowing matter to me? You make clods — what does your clod-making matter to me?” – linked above.

What is education for

No matter if you think that Ancient Egyptian pre-dates Sumerian by a hundred years or not, knowing ancient egyptian was not a great deal of help if you were trying to learn Sumerian. At first, Sumerian was written by using pictograms of things to represent sounds. But, eventually, those pictograms became collections of lines made by a flat stick into a lump of clay. In a world without horses, or carts, or printing machines, or computers… how do you go about standardizing which squishy lines mean fish and which ones mean tree?

Note the tidy writing on the far left and the total mess a new student was doing on the right. (also from Eleanor Robson’s article)

Through a process of enforcement that is not clear to me, someone, somewhere started creating lexical lists. Basically lists of words that you need to be able to memorize. There are thousands of them that survive from all over Mesopotamia. The process of standardization required by the first person to do this is staggering. But they managed. And so, we have the elementary education described above. Here’s the list of words. First memorize the trees. Now the animals. Now the stars. This is what they mean. Memorize those scribe-to-be, and other scribes, all over the world [sic] will be able to know what you wrote here.

At the advanced level, they were memorizing the stories that shaped their culture. This post is getting long – there are lots of reasons why its useful to do that. Maybe telling stories was part of being a scribe. Maybe it was just meant as long form practice. Maybe they sold them.

It turns out that this school house had little chests baked into the floor in the corners that researchers believed were where you put broken pieces tablet so they could be soaked and turned back into clay. The writing materials were cheap. The more versions of the standard ‘list of words to remember’ the better. They were standard after all. Repetition makes for good memory. Practice makes perfect.

Standardization and memorization, though, seem to be critical goals for the education system from Nippur in 1740BCE. There are lexical lists actually baked into the walls in that school in Nippur (or so I have come to understand). It’s a lexical list. No one needs to update it. Clay is cheap(ish).

I can totally understand why they taught this way. Lexical words so we could communicate. The 24 stories listed in the Robson article, because each was a cultural touchstone. standardize and memorize. Everyone who graduates gets to be a scribe. One job. Two skills. (please note the exaggeration for emphasis)

Two thousand years of schools being like that is a pretty big percentage of the time that we’ve had schools. It wouldn’t be terribly surprising to hear that we were still influenced by it.

Future Challenges Institute

Since my last post I’ve gotten most of the way through writing a book (i hope), gotten accepted to a PhD program, and have started a new position at the University of Windsor’s Office of Open Learning. I am now the Learning Specialist: Digital Learning Strategy and Special Projects. So far – I’ve been having a pile of fun in this role. One of the first things I was asked to do is put together a model for a summer education event. This I have done working with my colleagues here at the Office in Windsor.

The Future Challenges Institute is going to be held on the 11th and 12th of August in Windsor Ontario Canada. You are most welcome to come.

Futures thinking, if you’ve never gotten the chance to try it, is kind of like the opposite of a traditional academic approach. It’s in no way meant to replace it, but rather give a group of people an opportunity to look at the challenges they are facing from a new perspective. Instead of looking at all the research that has been done by your excellent colleagues, you take a look at what trends seem to be happening and ask yourself what would happen if those trends became pervasive. Here’s an example of a part of that process from a session I ran ten years (omg ten years?!?) ago. Also, a nice introduction by Fast Company.

As I started the research for this process, I was fortunate to come across the excellent futures work that has been done by SSHRC. If you’re not familiar with them, they are the research/granting agency in Canada that supports the social sciences and the humanities. In looking through their work we realised we could build on the work that they’ve done by looking at their societal challenges through the lens of education.

We are looking for up to 60 interested people to come work with us so we can think about what responsibility education has to address the challenges facing our society today. The four tracks we’ve decided to tackle are:

  • The Emerging Asocial Society
  • Working in the Digital Economy
  • Truth Under Fire in a Post-Fact World
  • Building Better Lives Across the Gender Spectrum

You’ll note that these challenges aren’t ‘challenges in education’ but rather things that education contributes to, in one way or another.

I’ll post more on this as we get closer to the event, but for now I just want to invite you all to put us in your calendar. 🙂

You can check things out at futurechallenges.ca