Blackboard is Technical Difficulties

According to Mike Caulfield, Blackboard used the following image to denote their technical difficulties during live streaming their Blackboard World conference.

CKddCNGVEAA148M.jpg-largeThere is a certain schadenfreude in the technical difficulties, similar to Bill Gates’ crash of Windows 98 live on CNN.  But for me the context of the image is rather confusing.  What is Blackboard trying to tell me by showing a picture of a father glued to his phone while his son looks out the bus window?  Is dad happy to be having a day out with the little guy and mom just sent a text?  Is dad laughing at LOLcatz, the arm around the son less an embrace and more a tactile reminder that son is accounted for?  Is  Blackboard saying this check-in at work will be the last solace dad enjoys before countless trips on the Small World ride at Disney?  What is the inconvenience in this picture?  The phone is eliciting a smile; is the child the inconvenience?  Is Blackboard being somewhat meta and speaking from the perspective of the child…and if so, why the blissful look on his face?

The more time I spend looking at this image, the more troubling it becomes.  I fail to see how this particular image says anything positive about anything at all.  And in light of a Wired piece on the Reeducation of Blackboard that misses the tenor of the EdTech world (example: a non-ironic subhead Students are Consumers Too), Blackboard’s tone-deafness seems systemic.  Jay Bhatt is about to roll out a *new and improved* Blackboard.  It promises advancement, but Blackboard has a history of rolling out extensions, applications and interfaces that gloss over the inherent problems of providing space for education to grow organically in the digital.  The history of Blackboard leads me to believe this new roll-out will be another magenta filter on a pretty picture that gets more troublesome the more it is analyzed.


#ED1to1: Learning in Asynchronous Sequence

From July 15-17, a number of formal courses and informal spaces are converging around #ed1to1 to look specifically at Audrey Watters’ (25 Years Ago) The First School 1 to 1 Laptop Program, but more generally to consider how different groups of learners with different objectives and different environments can coalesce in a similar space for the purposes of knowledge growth and diffusion.  Bonnie Stewart at UPEI was kind enough to drive the organization, and Laura Gogia of VCU has incorporated it into the Twitter Journal Club, on which there is excellent writing this week at Hybrid Pedagogy.

Within Seattle Pacific’s EDTC6104 (Digital Learning Environments), this provides us multiple opportunities.  First, as the course is designed to provide students the scaffolding to create an action plan for development/use/adoption/reconsideration of a digital learning strategy, looking at the history of a topic at the forefront of K-12 conversation is a great opportunity to mix history, theory, pedagogy and criticism.  Secondly, the use of social media in an asynchronous fashion, mostly via Twitter, is a unique look at how practitioner scholarship can flourish outside traditional confines.  Third, this is an opportunity to gain insight from others who are in the middle of change initiatives or technological implementations; Bonnie has provided a Google Document for people to briefly share projects they are working on and what the pros and cons have been.  For our purposes at SPU, sharing briefly here and expanding in personal blog spaces is a great opportunity.

There are many more benefits to this sort of emergent and exploratory scholarship.  Determining who to follow in the social media landscape is difficult; a project like #ED1to1 provides some immediate focus on people who are in similar situations but different environments, creating a catalyst for topical discussion but divergent perspectives or viewpoints.  While Twitter is but a 140 character window into a person, it provides a springboard into many avenues (the resources people share, the contents people write, the memes people enjoy).  Bonnie noted in her #et4online plenary that her scholarship looks to find the *sweet spot* between Twitter as an academic space and Twitter as pictures of what people ate for lunch.  To go back to Wenger again, this is the epitome of learning as identity management — one of many social media spaces where our interactions can be diffuse and divergent.  While the crux of the class Ellen Dorr and I are teaching focuses on the development of an environmental action plan, we understand that such plans are not easily abstracted from an individual; thus, the perspectives and passions of teachers and learners is paramount in what we do, what we develop, and how we interact.

#ED1to1 will run through July 17, and participation is open to anyone who wishes to participate.  I look forward to seeing the conversation unfold!

Image: People Who Live in Wax Pyramids Don’t Throw Matches by Alan Levine (CC BY 2.0)

Education has changed over 1000 years. It has also stayed the same.

George Siemens recently presented a keynote at the Higher Education Research & Development Society of Australasia, and Twitter was fortunate to have Gardner Campbell on hand to live-tweet the proceedings (Siemens did post his slides on SlideShare, but if you have not had the pleasure of seeing a George Siemens keynote, the slides are an augment of the conversation rather than a recitation). Titled Exploiting Emerging Technologies to Enable Employability Quality of Life, the presentation puts many existing assumptions around education and educational technology in the crosshairs.

An increasing number of pundits have taken to ringing the Education Has Not Changed klaxon, finding well-clicked bully pulpits from which to share these pithy proclamations.  Whether it’s Sal Khan linking to Horace Greeley (who links to the Prussians), or Peter Levine saying it hasn’t changed since the earliest universities 1000 years ago, or MIT Chancellor Eric Grimson perpetuating a false mythology of educational inertia

This has me thinking about Lee Schulman today, specifically his 1985 address to AERA that set the pieces in motion for adopting a more inclusive approach to teacher readiness, where contents and pedagogies were inextricably linked rather than siloed or imbalanced (or, in the case of the teacher testing protocols of the 1980s, eschewing both for the ever-popular classroom management).  Schulman understands how in the 1880s a teacher preparation program could be so weighted towards contents, and to an extent understands how a 1980s teacher preparation program could be so weighted towards methodology, but is troubled by the lack of link between the two; if we have grown with an understanding of pedagogy, that should not mean a sacrifice of content knowledge or expertise.

Of course, this becomes even more frustrating today, what with technology becoming as ubiquitous as pedagogy and contents, and the attempts to make TPACK borne of a theoretical framework in why and when, not what and how but too often equated to tool belts and easy application of technology.  The result is too often a third silo, a caste of technologists at the ready to deploy technology from a home base, independent of the teacher or the learners.

Schulman quotes Father Walter Ong’s 1958 work Ramus, Method & the Decay of Dialogue to siphon through rhetoric and see the importance of teaching across time and history — the etymology of Master and Doctor (the highest points of the academic profession) both come from words meaning to teach.  A bachelor was thus an apprentice teacher.  And if teaching is inextricably linked to all professions, then the idea of abstracting contents or pedagogies is a fallacy.  A doctor of anything is an expert in such a regard as to be able to assist citizens in journeying from novice to expert.

Voltolina’s Henry of Germany has been conflated by many as evidence of needed change in an archaic lecture system; perhaps the issue is much deeper.

Saying education hasn’t changed is certainly a way to sell product (technocentricism, competency based education, online platforms).  Perhaps it is also a signifier of a difficulty in better engaging the expectations of teacher in a rapidly changing educational framework.  Shulman notes the vast changes in expectations of a teacher between the 1880s (when a teacher credential examination was almost entirely based on content) and the 1980s (when the examination was almost entirely based on methodology).  These expectations have only continued to move towards classroom management and away from spaces of expertise, whether siloed expertise in contents or pedagogies or even a more broad expertise indicative of a Master or a Doctor.  In K-12 we see a political movement to classroom managers, and to an extent the discussions of competency based education  and letting teachers do what they do best is the higher education equivalent of diluting expertise so as to serve a framework hierarchy.  And this is antithetical to what Schulman and his contemporaries see as the value of teacher, a person whose expertise is malleable to the point of serving and facilitating a learning journey because of an ability to pull content and pedagogy together based on the needs of the situation and the environment.  Today, Mishra & Koehler have added technology to this construct, which in many ways is a further requirement and hampering on the role of teacher, but the potential affordances have reshaped and expanded on what it means to construct and create knowledge.

I have to think the education has not changed mantra is solely about the passing of contents onto individuals in search of jobs and careers.  From this perspective, it can easily seem like not much has happened — 1,000 years ago contents were passed to students and today we do the same thing.  What a great percentage of the research on education has shown, however, is the fallacy of the contents-mediated approach; education is about transformation and social relationships and externalization and not an easy accrual of facts or an ability to take Google facts and apply them.  The shift Schulman sees to management and methodology is not an improvement but a lateral movement; he calls for seamless integration between the domains of pedagogy and content.

The question Siemens posts at the heart of his keynote (quality of life over employability) is central to this discussion.  When teaching is about employment, it is easier to focus on singular contents or the methods, but to remain siloed even when calling for lifelong learners with liberal arts backgrounds who are critical thinkers and can apply abstract concepts to concrete situations.  When teaching is about quality of life, this is not an indictment of employment but an understanding that public service is only a part of identity, and thus the educators who are engaging emergent technologies in the name of pedagogy and content need to be able and willing to build connections and relationships between the formal requirements of the educational system with the personal transformation of each individual.  It is a balancing act, and a treacherous one in an environment of exponential technological growth and increasing government regulation.  Much like how educators endeavor to help students own their experiences in the classroom, it is just as important to aid faculty in owning their experiences with content, pedagogy and technology.

Joining the Blog Hub

One of the unique tools we will use during EDTC 6104 is the WordPress plugin feedwordpress which allows specifically tagged blogs to appear on an aggregate site.  This creates a living artifact for our course, a resource specific to the needs of Cohort 1 in Digital Learning Environments that traces the trials and tribulations of this course.  Blog hubs have been used in a number of open courses in the past, such as Alec Couros’ #etmooc as well as Teaching With WordPress at the University of British Columbia.

Alan Levine provided an excellent run-down of what people need to do to ensure their blog posts go to the hub of choice during #etmooc; Alan’s writing style is personable and can make complex issues read much more easily.  His words will work for the purposes of this course; however, I will briefly note specifically to this course what you need to do to link your blog to our blog hub.

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 2.39.00 PM1.  Decide how you will distinguish your postings (category or tag).  Our plugin, feedwordpress, will recognize your blog either based on a category or a tag.  You can see I chose to utilize the category EDTC6104 for all blogs pertaining to this course, which is a preference for how I blog (tags are how I think internally, categories are how I want to be seen externally).  The URL in WordPress is for the category, the URL for tags would be

You can use whatever sort of category/tag you would like. The important thing is to remember to apply it for every blog you write for EDTC6104 (whether an assignment, something supplemental, or something you did on your own but found pertinent).  An interesting aspect of blog hubs — months and years after the course they can remain vibrant from participants continuing to commune around the topic at the digital space!

2.  Let us know your decision!  Post in the comments here what you want to do (tag or category) and what the signifier will be.

3.  When you write your first blog, create & use the category or use the tag.  It will not appear on the blog hub immediately; the page has to be refreshed manually at this point (we are in beta), but trust that sometime that day or early the next day, you will see your blog on the main aggregate site!

We look forward to engaging your writing!

Photo – Flagstaff Big Wheels by Alan Levine (CC BY 2.0)