After Cheggification – A way forward (Part 1)

In 2015 I had a random conversation with a representative of the ‘school help’ site Brainly at a conference. The company had 50 or so million (now 350 million) registrations and I was told that any student could go on the website and ‘exchange answers’ to questions.

You could call it cheating. Students going online, pasting their questions into a search bar and finding an answer from another student, somewhere else in the world. Or you can see it as part of a broader systemic challenge that comes with the Internet. (or both) One way or the other, they were getting answers to classroom assignments from the Internet.

This week, Michael Feldstein wrote an excellent piece about how Chegg, another version of this answer exchange, has not only setup ways for people to find answers together, they actually bought some of those answers from the textbook companies.

The students not only (literally it seems) have the teacher’s copy of the textbook they have the means of getting answers to anything else you throw at them. My students tell me that the answers to questions on exams can sometimes be posted on services like Chegg minutes after the exam has started. These sites aren’t magical. You can get ‘wrong’ answers on Chegg. There are also times when getting answers to those questions take a little longer, some posted questions from students go unanswered… it’s not a perfect system. But it does work. If a student is working with access to a computer, and your question has a correct answer, they can find it.

So I’ve been asking students and faculty what the implications are…

The faculty response

Throughout the pandemic, I’ve trained and worked with 60 or so students who were hired to support faculty and students. It’s been a few years since I worked with University students in this way and I’d forgotten how straightforward and honest the relationship is. We’ve talked about how they are living through the pandemic, about how their friends are doing and, increasing as their grasp of education design increases, how education has been changing in the last 12 months. Interestingly, their perspectives match up almost perfectly with the conversations I’ve been having with clients and colleagues from around the world – except for the students, it’s more personal.

You see, faculty know that Chegg & friends are out there. Moving their courses online (thereby removing in class exams) has removed the only secure check or balance they had that could guarantee that Chegg wasn’t doing assignments for their students. They are responding, and it’s not making things better for anyone. I’m going to leave virtual proctoring out of these responses as that is primarily a school based response, and is a terrible solution.

Response 1 – Make the exams harder

The most common response that I’ve heard is to make the assignments and exams themselves harder. Whether by asking more questions, giving less time to answer the questions, making the questions themselves more difficult, or some combination of the three, the idea is to try to make the event of the test so challenging that students wont have time to cheat. It does make one wonder… if last year’s exam was fair, and this year’s exam is harder… doesn’t that make this year’s exam unfair?

Response 2 – Entrapment

There are a variety of ways this plays out. Some faculty are lurking on Chegg trying to see when their assignments/tests get posted. Some are making very small changes in their questions from pervious years and calling out the students using previous years answers. Lots of ways to do this. Doesn’t necessarily make for friendly feelings all around.

Response 3 – open/take home exams and assignments replacing high stakes exams

Some faculty are taking a different route. They are saying ‘hey, i know you have the exams answers, I’m going to create these really involved exams and give you 24 hours to do them.’ Alternately, they are throwing the exams out the window entirely and giving students assignments and projects to replace those exams.

So what’s the problem?

Well. The first problem is that each of these solutions makes the course experience more difficult for the student. The student experience of education is not, usually, a one course experience. It is a cumulative experience from across 4-6 courses. Options 1 (make exams harder) and 3 (make more assignments) increase the stress and workload on students, leaving them with less time to do all their work. Less time leads them to, you guessed it, look for help from places like Chegg. Faculty are creating a scenario that is pushing students towards the very solution that they are trying to design themselves out of. Cheggification leads to more cheggification.

I’m also worried about how combative the whole thing seems to be getting. Faculty feel like the core social contract of the education system is being betrayed by students. I’ve spoken to long-tenured, student loving faculty members who are getting really frustrated. I’ve also spoken to students who I firmly believe to be students who are trying to do the right thing who suggest the ONLY way to get the grade in the current situation is to get answers from Chegg. It’s not healthy all around.

Well-structured/ill-structured problems

Underlying this conversation is the idea of there being a right answer to a question. In order for Chegg to work as a cheating tool (rather than, say, a tutoring tool) the assignment that the students is looking up has to have an answer that is ‘correct’ that they can ‘find’. And you might say ‘yes, dave, that’s what a test is’. Ok. I hear you. But it doesn’t ‘need’ to be that way. There’s a distinction in cognitive education research between a well-structured problem and an ill-structured (or ill-defined) problem that tells a story that I think is interesting. (for long tenured readers of this blog, it is similar to Cynefin’s complicated/complex)

A well-structured problem is what Chi and Glasser call a classroom problem. That’s a problem with a clearly defined question, clear inputs and a well-defined answer. Think of any math problem, any definition you’ve ever been asked to remember, or even a writing piece with a super-well defined rubric. They are problems that have been created with the express intent of teaching someone something. They are, necessarily, artificial.

An ill-structured problem is what Spiro might call a real-world problem. I kind of like Herbert Simon’s definition of an ill-structured problem, “all the things that aren’t well-structured”. If it’s hard to formulate the question, or the inputs could be different for different people, or there isn’t only one answer (or maybe it doesn’t even make sense for there to be an answer) you’ve got yourself an ill-structured problem. If it helps, read the excellent 1973 Dilemmas in a general theory of planning by Rittel and Webber… they know an ill-structured problem when they see one.

Why do we want well-structured questions?

So, if you have well-structured questions, students are going to use Chegg (or something like it) to find a way to answer those questions without ‘doing the work’ that you want them to do. If you try and fight against it, you make the situation worse. So. That seems easy. Lets just get rid of them. Ill-structured questions For The Win.

Well… maybe not so fast. Maybe it was William Farish who started this whole ‘lets assign a grade for right answers’ business, and maybe it wasn’t, but we’ve sure been doing it for a long time. We might want to consider what we’d be losing by getting rid of well-structured problems. I mean. They’re also called classroom problems. What do we lose if we get rid of them?

A certain kind of equalness

I didn’t say equity and I didn’t say fairness, because i don’t think it’s either, but at least with a well-structured question it’s easy to grade. You either chose (b) or you didn’t. You either did this thing that i specifically laid out in the rubric or you didn’t. It ends a lot of arguments. I know I’ve talked to a ton of high school teachers and even some university professors over the years who’ve moved to this approach just to settle arguments with parents calling for higher grades for little Johnny.

Maybe it’s better for novices?

The research I’ve seen on this is mixed (like all educational research). There are some suggestions that giving people simple answers to things like ‘how is that cell constructed or how do you write a good essay’ is a good way to start people on the learning journey. Novice learners tend to look to the superficial answer, and maybe this helps them develop some basic language or something, that makes it easier for them to dig in later on? (more on this in a future post) I have also seen it argued that it sets people on the wrong path to believing that there ARE simple answers to questions… something they need to break as they move towards being experts.

It’s easier for grading

I mean. Obviously. grading for multiple choice or with a clear rubric is way faster.

Why should we be using ill-structured problems?

Well. that’s going to be the next post. They are ‘real-life’ problems, and, well, it does seem like learning how to deal with real-life might be useful. The big issue though, is that our entire educational design and planning system is designed to work on well-structured problems. There are HUGE implications to change it. Lots more to discuss.

Coupla citations.

Chi, M. T. H., & Glasser, R. (1985). Problem solving ability. In Human abilities: An information-processing approach (pp. 227–257). W. H. Freeman & Co.
Rittel, H. W. J., & Webber, M. M. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4(2), 155–169.
Simon, H. A. (1973). The Structure of Ill Structured Problems. Artificial Intelligence, 21.
Spiro, R. J., Feltovich, P. J., Feltovich, P. L., Jacobson, M. J., & Coulson, R. L. (1991). Cognitive Flexibility, Constructivism, and Hypertext: Random Access Instruction for Advanced Knowledge Acquisition in Ill-Structured Domains. Educational Technology, 31(5), 24–33.

What do I actually want from my PhD?

In all the 2020ishness (i don’t have another word for it) of the last 12 months i’ve not really put a lot of thought into this question. I finally decided to jump into a PhD program after several attempts because, well, this was the easiest way to do it. Foreign residency at faraway institutions sounded great, but the logistics of kids and jobs and whatever just never really made them possible. And the cost. The cost of this particular run is mostly covered by my institution. So, the answer to the first and easiest part of this question “why now?” is answered -> because it was easy.

But that is not really an answer to the question that my supervisors are interested in. My relationship with them has been excellent so far while I’ve taken the first two mandatory courses of the program. They’ve been supportive and hands off. Encouraging, but not in such a way that would complicate my position in the courses I was actually taking. So far so good. But we’re getting into the meat of the thing now. The place where we actually have to come to some kind of agreement about where this thing is going. And, given that they are committing their time to this process, i don’t think it’s an unfair question. What do I want to get out of the PhD?

As my supervisors are going to read this: you guys have been great. This post is not directed ‘at’ either of you. It’s just me thinking about what I want (and occasionally, don’t want).

A little preamble

A little preamble here, in case people coming across this post are not long-time (read: patient) readers. I’ve had some opportunities to participate in the conversation about education in a few different contexts. I had a string of a couple of years where I was very fortunate as to the time and place where I showed up, and managed to do a few things that gathered a little notoriety (like, in edtech circles, not like, in regular places). Through the people I met and the communities I worked in I managed to learn how to write articles, to do research and participate in the conversations about education that I thought were important.

I’ve also had some jobs (both job-type-jobs and as a consultant) in community colleges, k12 and university that have given me access to the other side of education. The planning, the policy and the strategy side of education have been a particular study of mine. As I am fond of telling my students (i’m not sure they’re fond of hearing it, but I do like the sound of my own voice) I have made mistakes all over education.

So. I’ve done some speaking. Lots of teaching. Some writing. Some admining. I am, as it were, a ‘mature student’. I am coming to a PhD exactly like dozens of those people I met all over the web talking about education. And. Well. They mostly hated their PhD. Not all of them. But most of them. So I came into the PhD with a certain amount of caution.

Research methods

I have things I could learn about different research approaches and the way they can be applied to different situations. Being an alt-academic for so many years, i have played to my strengths in any number of situations. I LOVE progressive coding for instance, and have stuck to it, taught it to other people and fallen back on it time and time again. I realize it’s not the only way to code data… but I like it.

Having switched into the cognition stream of the PhD program (note: i STRONGLY distrust the impact of cognition research on education), I have been opened to a pile of new ways of looking at research. I didn’t like all of it, but I did like some of it. I also enjoyed learning about the stuff I didn’t like. So that’s good.

But, i mean, I don’t REALLY want to learn LOTS about research methods. Everyone else in Higher Education chooses methods they like and stick to them, and I’m pretty much going to do the same. I’ve got a quant course this summer. Am I suddenly going to love quant instead of a 15 year commitment to the value of story in changing education. I mean… probably not. Doing the quant course will improve my anti-quant rants… which I’m looking forward to. It’s not that I don’t believe in quantitative research… I just think some of it is bad for education. Not all of it. But people like to count things, and I don’t think that learning is a counting noun.

So. Research methods… I’m probably good. I’m going to do some kind of story based research in my thesis or go back to it as soon as its done. I like story. I trust it. I want to pick one story based research method, nail it for the thesis, and wander off into the sunset. You could say “hey, you should get out of your comfort zone” and i would reply “really, how many researchers actually do that? Why wouldn’t I use the approach I believe in?”

I would love support on nailing that research method and doing it well.


I’m never really ever working on my own. People who’ve worked with me will tell you that I basically can’t think with my mouth shut. I have been fortunate in finding smart and patient learning friends.

And I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the people in my courses last summer and this fall. They are, some of them, new nodes in my broader community of learning and knowing, and new nodes are always good for learning. While excellent to meet new people, I did not come to a PhD to ‘find’ a community. I am lucky to have several that are willing to have me.

Learning about ‘being an academic’

This is a bit more of a touchy issue. The experience of my colleagues entering the PhD process has often included a couple of myths about higher education that seem mostly reserved for the PhD process (speaking mostly for North American PhDs). I’ve certainly heard it from some faculty over the years, and during a very long meeting over the summer, heard it from an instructor who told me I would never get published if I didn’t start ‘thinking more like an academic’. Whatever that means.

The pure beauty of higher education and, I would say, its strongest strength, is the diversity of approaches that it contains. We could use lots more diversity, that’s for sure (and WAY more acceptance of it), but even as it is, it’s kind of amazing that all those people work in the same location. You can go to two consecutive classes and have one person claim, with absolute certainty, that if you can’t count something, it’s not worth researching. Or, as i heard it once put by a Stanford Researcher -> it will be in the quadrant that the NSF wont fund. You can then cross the hall and be in a room where someone (say me) tells you that learning is mostly about people, and people being different, you can really only learn about people.

I mean. That’s amazing. But it also means that there aren’t any ‘rules’ about how to ‘be’ an academic. There are rules about getting tenure… but not like… rules… about what is the right way to do it. It’s like the myth of the sanctity of blind peer review. I once left a peer review journal committee where someone said something like “well, we all know who really wrote that, so we’re pretty much going to have to publish it.” If I get sent a rhizomatic learning paper to review, there’s a 50% chance I know who wrote it after skimming it. I’ve been asked to review stuff I totally don’t understand (and thereby given the authority to judge it). So… yeah.

I’m not saying I have a better system. I love the chaos of it. To me it represents what knowledge is… a big mishmash of differing beliefs.

I don’t want any nonsense about purity in higher education research. It’s a simulacra. Doesn’t exist. Never existed.

I mean, I might want a job in an academic department someday, but I’m not really sure about it. I’ve worked with enough departments to understand how they work. I currently have an ancillary faculty position. I like it. I might go in for an admin job. I dunno. But what I need for those jobs is a credential. So that’s something I want too.

What am I willing to do?

I totally get that this is someone else’s process. I chose to sign up for this gig, and I knew what i was getting into. I’m going to have to do the lit review, and the comps and the whole writing and defence business. I’m wary of putting my existing work into it (rhizomy stuff), because i’m not crazy about putting it in for a ‘yes/no’ judgement. I can just imagine the struggle around “defining rhizomatic learning” something I’ve happily refused to do for 15 years.

Happy to do the work though.

What do I really want?

I’d like to complete the research that I’ve started in the PhD so far. I want to attach the cognition literature on ill-structured domains to how faculty learn to teach online. I think there’s a really interesting pattern there, and it seems to answer some questions I’ve had for years. I think there’s a story to be told that could help people see how the digital has changed whatever relationship they could have had to information and knowledge. Maybe it has made it clearer? I want to tell that story.

And maybe do a little future of higher ed strategy. But that’s probably a bridge too far, and I can always do that in my spare time anyway.

I’d like to work with peeps (you guys) and my supervisors to make that research project as good as it can be. I want to tell a story with more than my voice. I mean, I’m probably going to try and recruit half of the 12 people who read this post. One of the suggestions that my supervisors made was to do some blogging to get feedback from the community on the process. This… is a start.

I’d like to figure out a good way to do it (three paper, interpretive dance… i’m open to it) that will make the research useful for people. Useful. For people.

That’s what I want my PhD to be. Useful.

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. 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

* 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 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 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.

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:

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 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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.
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.


  • 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.

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