My class is for real and so is Moodle

It’s real!  My course has been approved by the faculty, it’s listed in the catalog, and even has a number!  The instructor is named “To Be Announced,” but we can work on that.

I’ve spent time working attentively on my Moodle site.   Years of teaching online-only courses has helped me think about how the LMS can support classroom learning.  When teaching online, the LMS has to do some very heavy lifting and be many different things to the students.  Getting the site to where it is sufficient to give students a start and guidance requires careful organization.  I was always concerned about anxious, non-traditional students getting lost.  Even as I prepare to re-enter the classroom, I still come from the “more-is-more” school of thought.  I want my Moodle site to look like a resource someone (the instructor) spent time on.  Some of this is very practical organizational stuff – creating Labels to differentiate class days,  using the “Show One Section Per Page” setting to avoid the scroll-of-death, and deleting unnecessary blocks.

However, I’ve thought a lot about design and style too.  I think appearance matters in communicating that the material contained inside is something worth paying attention to.  I understand the impulse but I think my pet peeve is a Moodle site that is nothing but a string of isolated PDF files.  Maybe the course is so powerful that this approach suffices but I suspect Moodle could be doing more.  I’ve added a few little things on my page: I have a graphic course header in my General section, most of my links/PDFs/Files contain a small icon (with description for accessibility,  of course), and I preface many sections with relevant quotes from the artists we’re discussing. These are individually minor tokens that together make the course feel more cared for and lived in.  If a course is an experience then the LMS should be part of that experience for the better.

I’m still thinking about how to communicate this message to Moodle users around Kalamazoo College.  Many faculty already utilize select elements of what I’m doing, but a number of them do not yet and could be a receptive audience.  That’s a summer project!

Teaching, Advising, and More

One of the most satisfying things about working at Kalamazoo College is that I really have been warmly welcomed into the rich learning community here. As Educational Technology Specialist, I could perform my job in isolation as a technology administrator on the outside looking in on the activities of teaching and learning at K, but I wouldn’t be nearly as effective. Throughout the year, I’ve had more and more opportunities to join workshops, brown bag discussions, and talk one-on-one with faculty and staff about our educational mission. This has culminated at the end of my first year in being offered the opportunity to teach a First-Year Seminar of my own next fall. How cool, yes? Having been out of the physical classroom for a few years, this is an immensely exciting opportunity, so exciting that it’s difficult to organize all my thoughts.

There is the responsibility of technology. Colleagues have already teased me that, as the day-to-day collaborator/support for faculty using Moodle, I need to have the greatest Moodle course page Kalamazoo College has even seen. I don’t know about that; we have some very talented users who have been using Moodle longer than I. There is no doubt, though, that teaching with Moodle at K will give me a new insight into both what is possible and beneficial in using the LMS and what faculty frustrations lie out there that I might not easily spot in my role as an administrator. I will come out of the experience with a full course page where I can point and say, “Well, here is how I do it…”

The course will also let me pilot some techniques and resources that I hope to share with our faculty. is definitely one. I love the idea of having a digital flow of dialogue outside of class time to comment and communicate with one another. There are so many options to do this – Twitter, Moodle forums, Slack, Classroom Salon – but I feel like might be exactly what I’m looking for. I’m excited to ground our discussions to a close reading of the text itself with students asking questions and making comments at specific points in the writing. It’s taken a bit of troubleshooting to make’ software talk to Moodle, but with the help of my indispensable Computer Support Specialist friend Martin Nolan (not pictured, because he hates having his picture taken), I believe it will work for fall.

As part of my role as a First-Year Seminar instructor, I will also be given a number of freshmen to serve as their advisor. Again, the amount of trust that important people at Kalamazoo College have given me already is something I am deeply grateful for. Teaching, advising, and participating in professional development are things I hoped to engage in one day after I arrived at K, but people have decided that I can contribute to the college in this manner already and I couldn’t be happier.

It’s going to be a busy fall and I’m looking forward to talking about my plans in the meantime. To keep things rolling, I’ll discuss my course description soon on the blog soon.

New Ideas at the 2016 Michigan Moodle Moot

Busy! So busy! Taking a beat, I wanted to reflect on my first trip to a Moodle Moot, in this case the 2016 Michigan Moodle Moot at Mid Michigan Community College. Even as I keep my eye on serious games, student response systems, open educational resources, collaborative classroom spaces, and all other aspects of educational technology, there’s no doubt that Moodle grabs a lot of my attention. That’s okay; I find the LMS an interesting space, and I sincerely enjoy collaborating with faculty to use it more effectively and make it a complimentary, integrated part of our courses. Increasingly, staff members are finding non-course utility in Moodle for working with student employees, campus organizations, and even faculty communities of practice. That’s added another rewarding level of depth and engagement to what I do here at Kalamazoo College.

I attended two workshops led by @michelledmoore of eLearning Consultancy both of which focused on re-thinking approaches to Moodle. Software, design models, and peers have a tendency to push us towards a certain normative “logic” of use so I valued the idea of trying to challenge that logic. Michelle encouraged us to think about “crazy” applications for traditional Moodle Activities to break the routine and find new, creative uses.  Some of this was based on the idea of expanding Permissions to empower students and let them do the work of knowledge construction.  Great thought!

In another session, she challenged the wisdom of Forums, suggesting that regardless of why we are using them, there might be an alternative right in Moodle that would be more effective. This could be the Glossary, Blog, Workshop, etc. I’ve relied on Forums in the LMS extensively and have always had some mixed feelings.  They’re used all the time, but their compulsory, joyless nature is often plainly decipherable in participants’ posts.  Forums are difficult to fully give up on, but I did appreciate this contesting of learning orthodoxy.

Glossary, yes, like I was saying on Twitter – Michelle and other presenters earnestly wanted people to reconsider the value of the Glossary. I can see why it’s a non-intuitive sell. Many educators are assign textbooks with glossaries. Words are defined everywhere on the web. What is the point of students doing this work inside Moodle? There were some great ideas – allowing students to define difficult concepts in their own words, personalized class introduction rosters, course-specific dictionaries, resource sharing, a student-generated study guide, an FAQ, inventories of characters/concepts/specimens/you-name-it, and on and on. I immediately thought of a colleague’s technique where her students built a slang dictionary as part of an ESL class. In the end, I was sold and quickly had an idea for using the Glossary in one of my many hypothetical courses.

Overall, it was a quality experience, and I’m planning on attending next year. There were specific takeaways and strategies, but it was also rewarding to commune with people are working in the same space, facing similar challenges, and collaborating to create a better experience. Maybe I’ll eventually make it to the national Moodle Moot!

First Week with Google Cardboard

It was on Monday morning when I found out that one of our librarians had visited the office next door to show a coworker the Google Cardboard she had received in the Sunday New York Times. I became indignant. “You had Google Cardboard next door to me, the Educational Technology Specialist, and you didn’t tell me!” I was only joking, but it didn’t take long for the librarians to realize that somewhere in the building sat a Google Cardboard device from Kalamazoo College’s subscription to the Sunday Times. One rescue from a blue recycling container later, we had it and began experimenting.

For a reader who hasn’t yet tried it or heard about it, Google Cardboard is a deceptively simple device that uses a cardboard housing with two lens to convert your smartphone into a 3D, virtual reality viewer.

oogle Cardboard pictureTitle: Google Cardboard 2 Author: Maurizio Pesce
Source: Photo License: CC BY

As someone who has spent the week with one and works in Ed Tech, I wanted to offer my reactions. First, almost everyone I showed the device to was some version of excited. Two people went and bought their own that day. Even though the technology has precedents, the box combined with the computing and display power of the phone is impressive and new. The biggest surprise to me was how immersive it truly feels with the introduction of fully rotational space, 360-degrees. You would think that putting your face up to some cardboard lens would be dull but the field of vision, the proximity of the image, and the motion reaction is a gripping integration. I often feel like I’m in these environments and my senses are effected by what I see. I enjoy “Evolution of Verse” from VRSE in particular because of the jarring sensation of being in the womb with a (by comparison) giant fetus. It is unnerving and that sensation is a testament to the tech.

Right now, there are some technical limitations. The inexpensive plastic lens in something like a $20 Google Cardboard device introduces a grainy, lo-res illumination to everything. The image is rarely as brilliant and clean as what you see on your phone. That’s too bad. There are more expensive viewers, but I’ve already found that the popular one from ViewMaster will not accommodate my glasses so that’s a non-starter for me. I’d love something with a higher quality, less-mediating lens that fits over my spectacles. Also, these files are typically downloaded onto my phone, and they’re huge. A one-minute experience can take a gigabyte.

Thinking of “serious uses,” particularly for higher ed, I’m very excited to see where this can go. I’m sure the design and development of applications for K-12 is going to proliferate first. Creating a rich, meaningful experience is easier at that level of intellectual depth. The potential is there, though, especially as computer graphics push boundaries. You could place students into historical situations to get the “feel” of what it was like to be there or simply observe the terrain of a historical event (I’m ready to experience the Battle of Gettysburg right now). The capabilities of the phone would let a student make choices, see the influence of those choices, and have a custom experience, very much in the spirit of serious gaming in education. Places in literature could be set up as navigable locations and scenes in film could be deconstructed from the inside. The hard sciences are already envisioning how augmented and virtual reality might let students experience medicine, physics, biology, and other fields in new ways. It goes on and on.

There’s still technical and conceptual work to make this better, and I would envision the “smaller, cheaper, better” innovation model to move rapidly to solve challenges. The imagery and lens needs to get better to feel truly “real.” We need solutions for data management and file size, especially as we envision truly immersive, geographical experiences that take hours or more to complete. Motion is still crude. How do we digitally walk while remaining physically in place? How might we take advantage of our phones’ front cameras to augment reality? I understand some apps are trying this, Google Glass-style, but many VR viewers aren’t even designed to bother. What about connectivity? Can we use our devices and networks to have shared experiences in which we exist digitally together instead of staring off in isolation? These are great opportunities for discovery and invention.

In all, super cool. One week of playing with Google Cardboard has sold me on the value. Virtual Reality has started and sputtered for a long time, but this is different. The push by a massive, capable tech company to put these affordably into the hands of more people is going to drive software and hardware improvements. We’ve reached a critical mass of digital resources that can make these experiences sensually impressive and cognitively gripping in a way the most VR has not been so far. As someone working in educational technology, I fully expect these devices to have a major presence in my field probably faster than most of us anticipate.

The Limits of the Lecture, or What I Learned from Teaching Online

Molly Worthen’s “Lecture Me. Really” article in the NY Times sparked some valuable conversation this week. I won’t recap that whole thing, but if you missed it, Worthen offered an extended critique of active learning techniques in the classroom. Raging against the trend of de-emphasizing “sage on the stage” lectures, Worthen claims that quality lectures which present arguments and model critical thinking are optimal ways of teaching students, especially when this instruction is accompanied by meta-conversations about note taking and attention. I just presented her thesis in a rather favorable light as most educators would maintain the value of strategic, thoughtful lectures to enhance student learning. When you read her piece itself though, the problems are many and Josh Eyler does a comprehensive job of breaking them down here:

My intervention ties the debate here to a conversation I engaged in this week when a colleague asked me about my experience in online teaching. I taught blended and online classes for years, to the point where I became a trainer in pedagogy at my university for faculty and staff new to teaching online. While doing that work, I encountered numerous people who were highly skeptical about the value of online learning. I truly get that. First (as my colleague pointed out), the online enterprise has been stained by the impression that colleges are using these classes as a factory-style money grab to rack tuition dollars. More to pedagogy, there are concerns that online learning cannot replicate a classroom experience full of camaraderie and mentorship. If the course experience is inferior then students are the worse for it. I won’t perform the whole online vs. F2F debate, but I did become a believer in the concept of online classes. In a nutshell, there’s bad online classes and good online classes, just like face-to-face classrooms. Once you accept that online classes are “different” (not inferior) and plan for the difference, we’re off and teaching.

What I found is that (whether they admitted it or not) many instructors’ hesitation about online classes came more from what they wanted out of the experience of teaching than it did reactions to student learning. When Worthen talks about how she will “pace around, wave my arms, and call out questions to which I expect an answer,” I sense that this performance is incredibly valuable and exciting to her. She quotes another lecturer who says, “when I lecture, there’s a certain charisma. This stuff matters to me — it saved my life.” In response, it makes me want to ask “Who is this lecturing benefiting most – the professor or the students?”

As a young classroom instructor, I firmly believed that what separated me from weaker grad teachers was my comfort, experience, and insights. I could work a room, I could perform, I didn’t get nervous, I was the master of my classroom space. I was prepared and could construct a narrative from my notes. This made me successful, yes? After all, even my evaluations were high! It was only through teaching online and seeing those students learn just as much, watch them actively interrogate issues, think independently, that I realized that most of what I prided myself on had very little to do with student learning. Sure, I loved performing as an instructor and students responded to the fact that I was clearly invested, but were they learning critical skills to help them think by watching me up there?   Not as confident on that one. My charisma was not at the heart of student learning after all. Ego down.

This was challenging to accept as a graduate student. I can’t imagine what it’s like if you’re a tenured professor with years of lecturing experience, accustomed to a large of amount of intellectual deference and respect for your expertise. Abandoning the mentality that your most important job is to inspire students with the transcendence of your magnetism must be sincerely difficult.  Everyone might want to believe that he or she is Edward James Olmos, or Mr. Holland, or in a music video with Coolio, but the reality is that key parts of our job are to create opportunities for students to learn, build avenues to make connections, and present them with challenges to navigate. Basically, the tenants of active learning.

Like Josh Eyler and every reasonable academic admits, there is still a place for the lecture in academia. No babies will be exiting with the bathwater.  However (as he links extensively), there is evidence that this shouldn’t be the standard backbone of our courses. Worthen’s essay should be interrogated with a question I once had to ask myself: Is a passion for lecturing built on what excites the instructor or it is driven by what is best for student learning?

“Teaching with Twitter” Thoughts

Even with everything going on during the speeding Quarter system, it is good to remember to take time for professional development. I had the opportunity to enroll in an online course about Teaching with Twitter, and it has made a big impression upon me as I consider applications of social media in the classroom. I’ve already talked to some folks at K about their interest in this, and I should give an enthusiastic shout out to Matt Newman in Classics who has been committed to getting the most out of Twitter in his seminar.  The Hybrid Pedagogy class itself was excellent and brought me into dialogue I might otherwise have missed with scholars I would not have encountered. Navigating this topic with individuals who take pedagogy seriously while actively using these techniques at their institutions only fueled my belief in the potential of Twitter in the classroom.

What’s that sound?!? FERPA alert! Help!

Seriously, I recognize that when you mention social media in the classroom, be it Twitter, Facebook, blogging, Instagram, whatever, many instructors and administrators immediately worry about FERPA. This reaction is responsible and important. So let’s talk FERPA quickly to make room for what I want to say. There are some differing opinions on exactly how to interpret FERPA, but to save time on my own blog, here is a concise post from Faculty Focus that I find measured and helpful.
In short, with proper precaution and smart pedagogy, you can absolutely use social media in the classroom without violating FERPA.

I have found that Twitter, in particular, is now a vibrant place for scholarly discussion and a site where networking and communication can impact learning. Twitter has allowed me to access provocative conversations about pedagogy, learning, technology, and many topics relevant to my work. If you read my tweets, you’ll notice that I started using my course’s hashtag of #twittergo. If you follow that link, you’ll get a true Twitter experience of what those dialogues were like.  That’s one of the great things about Twitter – its archival nature.  Anyone following that link (I encourage you!) could jump into a conversation that flexes between synchronous and asynchronous.  The format and orientation can be daunting; it does sprawl like Deleuze and Guattari’s beloved “rhizomes,” but that is part of the unique experience and democratizing of discourse.

If I find myself teaching again, I’m going to strongly consider using Twitter as a medium for students to connect with the course. The days of being able to dismiss the platform as folks talking about their breakfast is over. It is increasingly a place where people do scholarly work, and it has become a tool for activism, learning, networking, and much more. It is one means to take our academic mission and make it open and global.  Like Kalamazoo College, Twitter is “comprehensively internationalized.”  Also, Twitter can be an effective writing tool, training someone to choose words and structure sentences carefully for maximum impact and clarity.  I’m convinced that are lots of potential strategies for using Twitter in High Ed.

If you want something in the shallow end of immersion, here is my project from the course, which was to design a Twitter assignment (forgive the blog content overlap).
Josh Moon -Twitter Assignment
I structured it intentionally so that participants don’t have to tweet personally or even register an account. Begin with some prefacing about Twitter terminology and techniques and this assignment could be a tool to think critically about social media and professional identity, a digital literacy project.

Lastly, here is miscellanea in the form of links and quotes:

“5 Tips for College Students Who Use Twitter”

“5 Reasons Twitter is Better for College Students than Facebook.”

“How to Balance Your Personal and Professional Identity on Social Media.”

“Your concepts of academic identity and academic reputation do need to expand. Twitter and social media are now a part of scholarship, as modes of communication and of scholarly practice.”
Bonnie Stewart, Coordinator of Adult Teaching, University of Prince Edward Island. @bonstewart

“When we engage on Twitter as scholars and academics, we contribute to the growing field of knowledge about networked collaboration and learning.”
Jesse Stommel, Director of Teaching & Learning Technologies, University of Mary Washington. @Jessifer

Padlet has a few fans at Kalamazoo College

As the Fall Quarter began, I found that Week One was getting everything set up, and Week Two was fixing everything that was broken! Both of these necessary tasks will certainly continue indefinitely, but I’ve been working on adding collaboration and new ideas to my workload as I get deeper into some of the most compelling work I do here at Kalamazoo College.

During casual conversations with faculty, I’ve had a strong positive response to a particular tool I’ve been talking about.  Have you seen Padlet? If you’re familiar with Google Docs, Slack, Dropbox, etc., this is another tool in that family tree of applications. These applications serve as centralized, online locations for people to post information and work together in a commonly shared space. What I like about Padlet, and maybe its point of emphasis, is its loose, multimedia, visual orientation. The goal of Padlet is to let multiple users post text, audio, files, videos, etc., in a common digital whiteboard space relying on nothing more complicated than a web browser. It’s very user-friendly and efficient in what it can do.

Here is a 2-minute tutorial from their YouTube page.

Another advantage is that students/users don’t have register an account or download any special software. You only have to provide them with the web address to use the Padlet whiteboard.  The set up is virtually nil.  I showed this to one instructor and she was using it the next day in class.  The Padlet creator has lots of flexibility with access, from requiring a password just to view the page to expanding its availability to anyone. You can set posts up to be moderated as well, then resize and move content to add organization and emphasis. There is an App that makes interaction with the page easier, but it isn’t essential.  Nor is the $$ version; the freebie appears to work rather well.

What are the drawbacks? The visual display itself is unrefined. If you want an easy, dynamic collaborative workspace, Padlet works great. If you want a professional looking screen organization to share as a finished “product,” that’s not a strong suit.

To me, an ideal application would be individuals or groups working on a project who want to share comments, files, readings, and media. If everyone is watching a common display and working in real-time, the instructor can act as a moderator, board admin, and highlight salient content posted to the Padlet. I envision a busy, conversation-filled classroom problem solving and engaging in multiple streams of communication. The Padlet whiteboard is both an organizer of that dialogue and a tool to prompt thoughts in different directions.  In another scenario, students could use Padlet as an asynchronous work space to document material relevant to class or make decisions about class activities and projects.

Alexandra Briggs has some ideas on using Padlet in Higher Education which I am linking in part because it is itself a Padlet.

Of course, if you’re interested in using Padlet at K, I’d be happy to collaborate with you and help you get oriented to the tech.  There are already instructors who have tried it here so you’re far from alone!

Fall Quarter is Convened and Digital Pedagogy

It is an evolving challenge to take the minutes to write this blog as Fall Quarter begins! I was encouraged to check out Convocation to get an impression of what learning and community means here at K and that definitely came through during the event. The words of President Wilson-Oyelaran stuck with me in particular. She made it clear that the singular goal of our college is not a laser focus on professional marketability or even the other extreme of learning simply for learning’s sake. Kalamazoo College is about “becoming fully at home in the world” and building “a passion for life that will not allow you to keep silent when you should speak; that will not allow you to be inactive when your action is needed.” Well said!

In addition to getting ready for Fall and making sure faculty have access and support for the resources they need, I’ve been spending some time this week reading and engaging conversations around the topic “digital pedagogy.” One provocative resource is the online journal Hybrid Pedagogy. Before digging in, this phrase struck me as another buzzword conjured by young educators or instructional designers do dismiss all that came before in pedagogy and most of what is happening now in classrooms. However, despite the present iconoclasm (End the LMS!), there are themes in digital pedagogy that I appreciate greatly. The definition offered by Hybrid Pedagogy references the conscientious use of digital technology as a pedagogical tool to utilize in teaching, not an end in itself. That’s a great sentiment that is easy to lose track of in the pursuit of fancy, shiny new tech to impress parents and prospective students.

Another sentiment, more complex and nuanced embedded within the philosophy of digital pedagogy, appears to be that the webspaces, communication platforms, software, and devices we encourage students to learn through should be implemented in a way that reflects the open, intersectional, creative, and non-hierarchical digital world that exists outside the “traditional” confines of the academy. This idea is big and subtlety controversial. Some instructors’ conceptions of the campus and the class are as contained bubbles in which learning is facilitated via a carefully organized set of stimuli through well-planned structures. The idea of throwing our learning environments out to enmesh digital spaces that threaten to wrest away control and introduce variables can be frightening. It’s also worth pursuing with caution keeping students’ best interests in mind. However, I think the impulse is firmly with a pedagogy that encourages active learning, play and making as a path to understanding, and freedom, choice, and chance as instructional principles. That is something I can get behind in educational technology.

It is Friday and this blog is getting far too heavy and philosophical. Everyone in Information Services has elaborately styled and ornamented offices. There are roller coasters, Star Wars toys, sports memorabilia, stuffed animals, and more. My young office is meek in this regard. However, these four are keeping me company atop my filing cabinet. This is my start.

EGO Gang

A Quarter on the Horizon

You can deeply sense the gathering buzz around campus as faculty start to return, staff accelerate their attempts to finalize summer projects, and everyone hears the distant roar of students approaching campus for the start of Fall Quarter. For many grasping at final preparations, this is a moment of heightened anxiety. Anecdotally, I can say that the summer hires are largely excited about what it will feel like to be working and providing services to an active, dynamic campus in full session. It has been, on some days, too free of commotion.

I met many colleagues yesterday as Information Services welcomed new faculty and tried not to overwhelm them with the array of support options we offer for teaching, technology, media, research, and you name it. Paul Sotherland, our Coordinator of Educational Effectiveness, was kind enough to invite me to spend more time with the incoming group at lunch. When you’re new, building relationships is so important so I really valued the opportunity to talk with these educators about their backgrounds and learn what excites them about teaching. In conjunction with support from faculty members like Patrik Hultberg, Jan Solberg, and Charlene Boyer Lewis, I felt like an engaged member of the pedagogical community.

I was going to talk Moodle in this entry, but I’ll save my thoughts about ensuring students watch your online videos for later. There are presentations to finish, tech to research, and introductions to new colleagues to appreciate.