Tag Archives: loosely-coupled

The Open Educator as DJ / TTIX reflections

http://edtechpost.wikispaces.com/Open+Educator+as+DJ+(Final)

So I definitely slowed down posting here, committed to only posting when I had something significant to say, but then I don’t seem to be even able to do that? Anyways, I haven’t passed away or anything, indeed I am just back from the fantastic gathering in Utah that was the TTIX conference. Put on by good friends Jared Stein and John Krutsch (amongst other talented folks) this annual FREE conference has much to offer both K-12 and post-secondary educators, and this year included keynotes from myself, Chris Lott and Brian Lamb.

Well, Brian urged us to “Go hard or go home” and I think each of us did in our own ways. Brian delivered another of his great talks on the “Urgency of Open Education,”  a ‘must see.’ And Chris…well Chris nearly brought me to tears with his talk on “The Idea of the Idea.” Far from being the dry talk the title might imply, this was a romp through the history of ideas which ended in a heartfelt plea for a return to deep humanistic teaching, not as a luxury but as an imperative. I strongly urge you to spend the time and effort this talk demands.

And me? Well cowed as I was by these stellar co-speakers, I did my best not to throw up and gesticulated wildly through “The Open Educator as DJ.” I am reasonably happy how it came off, and pleased that I will get at least a second chance at it this fall at the ADL Academic Fest in Madison, Wisconsin. I really did try to show, not just tell (you can see a demo of each of the steps in the workflow here) but ultimately I do think there was too much telling, so I plan to rework that.

I was especially excited to do this talk not only because some good friends had asked me to do a keynote (which always brings up your game) but because for me this talk represents the synthesis of a number of different strands of my work from the past years, bringing together stuff from “Mashups for Non-Programmers,” (2007) “Augmenting OER with Client-Side Tools: A Demonstration” (2007) “The Pros and Cons of Loosely Coupled Teaching,” (2007) “How I learned to stop worrying and love Web 2.0,” (2007) “Weaving your own Personal Learning Network,” (2008) “Becoming a Network Learner – Towards a Practice of Freedom,” (2008) and finally “Pimp your Browser” (2009). I’m not citing all of these to show off, but instead because for me this last talk on “the Open Educator as DJ” represents the synthesis of thinking on how OER, PLEs and network learning/loosely-coupled-teaching are initimately related, a synthesis which I did not start with but which I have been groping towards in each new presentation. I keep telling you, I am a SLOW LEARNER!

There was a lot for people to take in; if you don’t want to spend the time going through the talk, you may at least find the resources useful. Ultimately, if there were only 3 things to take away from the talk, I would highlight:

  1. clipmarks (and sni.ps) as a critical new method to add to your arsenal which lets you sample and feed individual chunks of the web in a way that still preserves linkability and attribution
  2. As I tried to demonstrate with the example of the resources page, the myriad methods available to aggregate and syndicate content wherever you want it to appear
  3. the very idea of a network enabled workflow inspired by a metaphor from an existing discipline – as I tried to emphasize in the conclusion, even if the metaphor of “DJ” doesn’t resonate for you, find the one that does, because whether you know it or not, you are already using one, and hopefully by becoming conscious of it, it can become one that helps you to swim in the ever-deepening sea of information that surrounds us.

I think there are lots of holes in this talk, and I am always learning, so please, let me know what you think, what parts don’t resonate for you, and how I can make it better? - SWL

Using Google Maps Image Viewer to Post Large Images without Resizing

http://www.labnol.org/internet/design/embed-large-pictures-panoramas-web-pages-google-maps-image-viewer/2606/

Apparently within the geography community (and I expect some other places) this trick is well known, but it was new to me and so thought it worth sharing. Using the free Google Maps Image Cutter developed at University College London you can cut up very large images into ’tiles’ and then use the standard Google maps viewer interface to pan and zoom on it. The default is for the picture to wrap, but if you look at the source of the HTML page, change one value prevents this, as can be seen in the example I tested it on here.

Many of the pages I readpointed out that a service like Zoomify already does this. True enough, but a) other than for the most basic package, that is a paid for service b)Zoomify is a Flash-based approach, sometimes that’s not what you want c) this seems to me to give me more control, and can you ever have enough options on how to do things like this? Isn’t that part of what we educational technologists are supposed to do – listen to needs and respond with appropriate solutions?

(As an aside, I found this via another very good post, “How to embed almost anything on your website.” It struck me while reading this that it behooves any institution that still dares to force an LMS on its instructors and learners to create a resource like this, an inventory of techniques that work to bring stuff from outside into that LMS. Banning Javascript includes simply isn’t an option; I understand the risks, but we need to figure out better techniques for the people who should own these concerns (security administrators) to monitor them instead of making end users bear the burden. ) – SWL

Looking for best practices on password recovery

Inevitably, when we discuss “loosely coupled” approaches with educational institutions, the conversation inevitably turns to “security and authentication” issues. But really, often what is meant is “those nasty web 2.0 tools won’t single sign-on to my [monolithic, obscure] campus login system, so what are we to do?”

The last time I was in this conversation, Brian Lamb made the simple but inspired observation that a huge portion of the problems single sign-on “solves” could be more easily handled with just a simple password recovery process, and challenged the educators in the room to think about how easy it was to retrieve a lost password on their current institutionally provisioned systems (any misstatement here is my own, Brian please correct me if I got this wrong). There was widespread murmuring to the effect that he had a point.

But which raised this question – can someone point me to what the best practice is for recovering a password? Asking for username comes with one set of problems, asking for email address another. I’m sure someone’s already looked at this extensively – lazyweb, help me out! – SWL

BC "Learning Content Strategies" meeting

http://tinyurl.com/5tqmz8 

Most of you will know one of my long term projects has been to help share online learning resources across BC and beyond. One of the main stumbling blocks to effective sharing has been the diverse (divisive?) environments in which the material are produced/housed/assembled (at last count there are at least 5 major flavours of LMS in our 26 institutions, as well as sundry other ones and non-LMS approaches as well).

I’ve always held that a top-down “standards” approach isn’t the answer; not only is my project not big enough to compell that kind of change, I am thoroughly sceptical of any of the current standards-based approaches to actually work across all of these LMS. Plus for any “solution” to be adopted, it needs to reflect local realities and priorities at institutions, and be seen to solve local problems before it (or at least, as it) solves the ones of sharing outside the institution.

Add to this the fact that I am loathe to highlight only solutions that would simply further entrench LMS-based solutions or that don’t take into account the learning we’ve all been doing about the role of openness, or the new approaches which social software and other loosely-coupled technologies can offer, and we faced a quandry. How to frame a meeting that brought up the issues, highlighted the common pain points, and ALSO presented both LMS-oriented and other approaches to learning content/learning environments?

Thanks to a suggestion from Michelle Lamberson, we decided that framing the day around the conceit of “Learning Content Strategies” was the perfect way to bring all of this together (seems obvious now, but we struggled for a while for the right frame.)

After a very brief intro from me, we kicked off the day with an hour long discussion of common problems and challenges around learning content. I facilitated this, getting the discussion going with a set of questions that people answered using iClickers. (As an aside, while I recognize lots of potential problems with clickers, I was frankly blown away by how well the iClicker technology itself worked. Truly simple to use and functioned flawlessly.) It felt to me like a good start to highlighting some of the common problems people are facing and laid the groundwork for the rest of the day.
The next step was to showcase work of a few institutions around the province who, in my experience, have developed different approaches to developing content indepedant of their LMS environments. Katy Chan from UVic, Enid McCauley from Thompson Rivers and Rob Peregoodoff from Vancouver Island University all graciously shared with us some insight into their content development processes and the factors that shaped their choices. The important thing that came out of this for me is that none of these approaches is the “right” one, just the “right” one for their context – they ranged from standalone HTML development, to industrial XML production, to Macromedia Contribute, and each had its strengths but also possibly its complications. It’s a tradeoff, you see, like any choice. But they certainly gave their peers in the audience lots to think about.

After lunch I trotted out my dog and pony show, highlighting some of our offerings from BCcampus as well as launching the new Free leaning site. I still live in hope that some of these offerings will resonate with our system partners (a boy can dream) and already there seems to be some renewed interest, which is heartening.

The afternoon was given over to a completely different set of approaches to the problem. Like I said, while the vast majority of our institutions use LMS as their primary online learning platform, that is not the future, or at least, not the future I hope for, so we wanted to expose people to some approaches already happening in the province that are outside the LMS, ones that used loosely-coupled approaches or “openness” as an enabler.

First up was Brian Lamb and Novak Rogic from UBC, and I’m pretty sure their demos of moving content to and fro using WordPress, Mediawiki, their fabulous “JSON includes” and “Mediawiki embeds” techniques left some jaws dropped on the floor. A hard act to follow indeed, but Grant Potter from UNBC did a great job, showing off their own work with blogs and wikis for shared and distributed content development.

Finally, since all the presentations to date had been from a somewhat “institutional” perspective, I thought it important to get an instructor up there to show what a single person can do with the current technologies, and who better to do so than Richard Smith from SFU. Worried though he claimed to be about following @brlamb and co. on stage, he needn’t have – his session was a blast, showing off many web 2.0 tools that he uses with his students. I think some of the biggest value from that session was challenging the notions of the handhel instructor, of the assumption that media must have high production values to be useful, and that this tech is just for “distance” learners. Richard basically made the case that he is able to offer more than 100% seats in his class by always having remote and archived materials for the students. I’m pretty sure this turned more than a few heads.

In the end, my nicely laid plans for orderly rountable discussions were thrown out the window, and I tried as best I could to facilitate a whole room discussion on the fly. I think it went pretty well;  we tore through many of the real challenges people face, from single sign-on to copyright, offering some new ways to think about these and identifying what I hope are some things we can keep working on together as a province.

In all honesty, this meeting went as well, even better, than I had hoped. My goal was not to propose a single solution (as I do not believe there is just one solution) but to bring the problems to light, to get people to acknowledge they exist, and to give them a chance to see some different ways to deal with them, and talk amongst themselves. My experience with this group and with the ed tech professionals in BC in general is, give them a chance to talk and share and don’t be surprised at the number of collaborations and shared solutions that emerge. I have great hope that this is just the start of the conversation and of renewed efforts. – SWL

BCcampus OER site – Free Learning

http://freelearning.bccampus.ca/

If you read ed tech blogs, especially the ones I read, then conversations about “open content” and “open education” feel like they have been going on forever. Indeed, at the Open Education conference this year, we celebrated 10 years of Open Education, so it’s been at least that long.

But my experience travelling around my own province for the last few years is that OER is still not a widely publicized phenomenom, and that faculty and ed tech support staff are still living with “scarcity mentalities” when it comes to the availability of free and open educational resources.

So as one small step to address this, we built this new site, Free Learning. There are many other good OER portals out there. If faculty and students were already using these, then we wouldn’t have a problem. But, in my experience, they are not, and as someone who works for the Province of BC, I have a hard time justifying marketing budgets for sites like those. So we built this one, also to give more play to locally developed resources that are Fully Open.

But in building this, I did not want to create a monster we would then have to maintain forever more. I wanted something that was simple to use and provided straightforward value to end users, but was also simple (and free) for us to maintain. Thus we built the site in WordPress. Using the Exec-PHP plugin allowed us to include some additional PHP web service calls to the SOLR repository to display the Creative Commons resources there in a tagcloud, something that system does not do natively.

I am especially proud of the OER and Open Textbook search pages. These provide a tagcloud of sites stored in Delicious, and then allow users to perform a constrained Google search over just these sites.  You are guaranteed that the sites you search are explicitly “open educational resources” from high quality, well known producers. Adding new sites to the list of sites, to the tag cloud and to the Coop engine is as easy as tagging them in Delicious. Since I already do this… it means no extra work. The site ticks along simply because I am online and find new OER sites all the time.

Total time on the project (including wonderful work by my colleagues Victor Chen and Eric Deis) was maybe a week. The bigger job now is getting it known and used around the province. I demo’d it to folks from around BC at the “Learning Content Strategies” meeting we held last Friday. Hopefully that is the start. And we also mentioned that this site could itself be a service for them – using WPmU, we can easily spawn another version of this site that responds to their own domain name, with their own branding, yet still uses the same background engine (meaning their effort is almost none, if that’s what they want). The cost is close to zero, but for our trouble they get a custom branded OER portal they can market to their own faculty. See – I DON’T CARE if you use THIS site or SOME OTHER SITE. I just care that people ACCESS OPEN EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES. And if re-branding this makes it easier for them to sell this to the people they support, great. I’ll happily provide you a version, or give you any of the code. That is what building it on top of open source technologies (and freely available services) allows us to do.

Please have at ‘er, let me know if it is useful, or any criticisms or complaints you might have. After all, we aim to please. – SWL

Suggestions for best sources on teaching with loosely coupled tools

So, if you’ll induldge me again, I have another question as a follow up to the last one.

What is your favourite source for finding new examples of people teaching online with loosely coupled tools? Is there a blogger you already follow who regularly posts great examples from the field? Or is there a trove of examples already identified that the rest of us might benefit from.

If you have specific examples to point to of people teaching with Web 2.0 tools or in a loosely coupled way, I would love to hear about those too, but right now I am trying to gather regular sources/feeds, people who regularly note best practice examples. Suggestions truly welcome – SWL