This is your Italian course. This is your Italian course on WordPress.

Some day I’ll get tired of admitting how far ahead of the pack UMW is.

Today is not that day.

So to paraphrase that guy with the egg…

This is your Italian course:


And this is your Italian course on WordPress:

Italian Course

Click the above image to check out a module a UMW Italian professor put together on the Vespa scooter. In the module you watch some vintage Vespa commercials (in Italian, via YouTube), and answer a series of questions about the Vespa based on the commercials.

How can you not want to take that class?

Jim Groom has more details.

A meager start

OK, we’re not godlike. We ain’t Jim Groom.

But we are launching our own WordPress MU intitiative: KeeneWeb.

Our particular angle is going to be less academic, and more creating community on campus, community outreach, and (hopefully) getting some tradmed attention. We have some really talented people on our campus, it’s just hard for the outside world to see them. I hope this will change that.

As far as rollout tactics: we’re blessed (and yes, “blessed” is probably not an exaggeration) with a provost who gets it, and wants to use a blog to communicate the decisions, trends, and issues that arise in the course of his day. So that gets us to blog as publication. Somebody’s going to read that.

Then the hard part: blog as conversation. The only arrow I have in my quiver here, at least to start, is intense personal lobbying of those on campus that might want to get on KeeneWeb and start replying to what the provost writes in his own blog.

But I can be a tireless lobbyist. So perhaps this will work.

Putting together a Web 1.0 website was a relatively set process. You did the paper prototype. You got buy-in. You made up three designs; they picked one. You chopped, diced, wrote, and implemented. You rolled up. You rolled out.

Putting together a Web 2.0 site is much harder. It’s more like starting a fire. You rub sticks together or strike the flint, you get a spark and try to fan it. You curse, and repeat. But when it takes off, it can really take off.

I’ll let you all know how it goes.

The Parable of the Thingamajig

We are reaching the end of our evaluation process here on my eportfolio committee. So in a month of impassioned pleas, I hope y’all forgive me one more. This is the last push.

But I want to do it this time by telling a story.

I want us to pretend it is 1985, and we are considering two competing products for the library. Let’s say that the need is to teach students how to do research circa 1985, and we’ve decided to spend some money on a product to do that. The plan is to develop a “research curriculum” and to get a tool that helps us better understand students’ research ability.One product is called “Thingamajig” and is billed as a replacement for the NYT Index, ERIC, Dialog, and the card catalog. It replaces the Library of Congress system with its own “superior system”, and collates material from multiple subject indexes into its own aggregate database. It has maybe a tenth of the resources available in the library as a whole, but they are well arranged.

In order to do research students log into this tool and use the special Thingamajig™ search tool. Then they give the Thingamajig call numbers to the librarian, etc. And because all their work is logged in the Thingamajig system, we can very easily assess whether these students are starting to get the hang of “research thinking” – Thingamajig can log and score everything done inside of it.

The other product, which we’ll call ResearchRank, just gives some standard ways of assessing student work and pumping out reports. For the actual work, it lets students use the same things they would use outside of the institution: The NYT index, ERIC, Dialog, the card catalog, etc.

In fact, as new resources become available for doing research, ResearchRank doesn’t care – if the professor can understand how the student is using them, he can assess them.

Which is the better product? Which serves the student better?

All of these eportfolio template products we’ve looked at exist in a Thingamajig mindset. Rather than let students use tools that have a broad application outside the boundaries of our college
, they push the student to think of eportfolios as dependent on

institution-specific technology. They keep the student in an unempowered mindset. They force the student to see technology in the wrong way.

To return to our example, imagine it’s 1987 and you’re a professor hiring for an assistantship. You have to chose between two students.

The first student comes in. And when talking about research they tell you how great they are at research – they are, after all, proficient in Thingamajig. They tell you how they used the specialized undergraduate templates to do research in Thingamajig. Are you familiar, for example, with the “Essay Research Template for Political Themes #5”? They did an excellent project using that.

The next student comes in and tells you about subject indexes, the problems of restricted vocabulary, how much they hate the quirks of ERIC, and how low they’ll get a result set on Dialog before they print the list. They tell you a neat system they devised using colored post-its to keep track of where quotes came from. And they tell you about the time it failed and they ended up citing Richard DREYFUSS on particle physics.

You’d choose the second student in a heartbeat. Sure, maybe Dialog rolls out a new version in 6 months, and those skills are irrelevant – but the second student has demonstrated an ability to solve real world problems with real world tools. They understand how to interact with technology – technology extends their will rather than limiting or defining it. And because they have to construct their own environment, they don’t confuse the process of research with the parameters of some school-bought tool.

You’d choose the second student. So would I. And we’d be absolutely right to do so.

The real world tools of reflection today are numerous, but they are not in TaskStream, or ePortaro. They are wikis, blogs, video-sharing sites, Flickr,, etc. We can show students how to use these tools to better understand and represent their experience.

Or we can buy them a Thingamajig.

I really think that’s the choice we’re looking at here.

Announcing the Learning 2.0 Pecha Kucha Contest

Heard of Pecha-Kucha? It’s poetry slam for the design crowd. Haiku for the business world.

It’s the solution to Death by Powerpoint. Here’s the rules:

  • Each pecha-kucha participant delivers a PowerPoint presentation
  • Each presentation must comprise of 20 slides, no more, no less
  • Each slide must be displayed for exactly 20 seconds
  • Consequently, each presentation is exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds long

(h/t Downes)Â

Now what I would propose is this — anyone reading this post

  • Make a Pecha Kucha entry about some aspect of Learning 2.0
  • Post it on slideshare or youtube or whatever…
  • Tag it on, etc. as PK_Learning2.0

 And let the games begin. I know it would be a lot cooler to get in a room with some gin and tonics and do this, but baby steps, right?

The SmallWonder arrives

We want to go guerrilla video over here, and inspired by the Stanford ePortfolio crowd, we got a couple of SmallWonder cameras from TigerDirect. The idea is that they are less intrusive than a traditional camera, more portable, and easier to use, and that sets the video threshold to a level where people are more likely to grab them on impulse to film something.

We’ll see. So far I’ve been really impressed with the ease of use, and I’m pretty certain I will be buying one myself for my political blogging. Maybe tonight, given how much I like this thing so far…

Here’s our first test clip:

The college as student/project matchmaker

What would happen if instead of encouraging students to build yet another fake bookstore project we had encouraged them to write wikiscanner?

They’d have changed the world, that’s what.

What if instead of having statistics students take multiple choice tests on data analysis we had them examine earmarks or deficit spending using ManyEyes?

They’d change the world, that’s what.

What would happen if our Modern Language students translated popular foreign blogs into English, or our film production students organized to film every presidential candidate’s appearance within 20 miles and post the video on YouTube or What would happen if our chemistry students went to the Salvation Army Store and bought historical toys to test them for lead, then posted the results?

We do a lot of real world projects at the college I’m at — in fact, it’s one of the most admirable facets of the college. We’re truly a leader in this regard.

But my belief is we can (and will) will go much further along this road in the coming years.

Why? Because in the old world there was a real cost to real world projects. Very often you were putting students at the helm of something expensive — equipment, time, something. Putting inexperienced students in charge of those resources was at best a risk, and at worst a danger.

And we built our educational system around those parameters. In the manufacturing economy, you had to run students through simulations of work, because failure was EXPENSIVE and publication RARE. Products required expensive investment, equipment, resources. And even more purely intellectual products had physical limits on them:  in the non-networked economy, publication was the privilege of the few, and outlets for one’s findings were hard to come by. There wasn’t really much of a publication tier for undergraduates.

So, in many cases we waited until people were in graduate school or in industry to encourage them to do things with real impact. And we spent our time in college with them preparing them so they wouldn’t fail when they eventually did engage with the world-at-large.

There are (and were) exceptions, and many of them. There are stunningly good programs at my college that put students in Art and Architecture and Safety Studies in positions where they do great work, real work, in service to the greater community. And when I see such things, I’m just inspired and proud.

But I’m saying in our net-enabled world, we can make such learning the norm, and not the exception.

The reason why is simple economics. In a networked information economy, failure is cheap. Production is cheap. And if you produce something worthwhile, distribution is free.

Film students don’t have to tie up the professional grade camera (at least not for everything) — they can film events on a $100 USB device. Statistics students don’t have to pay for database access or tools — there’s a wealth of public data out there, all waiting for someone to sift through it. Translation of a foreign blog takes only a student and a computer.

The other day I wrote an application that posts to twitter every time a bill or resolution is passed in the House of Representatives. It took me two hours. It didn’t cost a dime.

There are literally thousands of worthwhile projects out there, just waiting for a student to take them on. But students aren’t familiar enough with the landscape of real-world needs to know where these opportunities are.

If we want real academic engagement, we have to treat undergraduate education the way we treat our most successful graduate programs. We have to see a major part of our role as pairing interested students with interesting problems. We have to be a bit of a matchmaking service. Because that’s how we are best going to help our students change the world.

Giving your students a toolbelt

UMW has put together a tools section for incoming freshmen and new faculty. The idea is to present to them six free low-threshold tools which will be their tools of the trade for the years to come.

The tools are:

Firefox, WordPress,, Google Docs, Google Reader, and Flickr.

As much as I like to tell people the task of choosing tools never ends, this idea of a standard toolbelt is incredibly powerful, and it’s made even more powerful by presenting it to incoming students. While the specific tools chosen here are perhaps replaceable, the technologies represented are not. The key concepts of modern information literacy are all here: tagging, category-based navigation, syndication, conversational media, trackbacks, collaborative workspaces and loosely coupled media.

And it’s important for kids to know (and for the college to tell them) that a person who does not understand these concepts is as illiterate today as a person who couldn’t operate a card catalog or an subject index years ago.

It’s perhaps even more important to tell students that they will meet many challenges in the coming years, but that a good deal of these challenges can be met using these tools. The power is, after all, with them.

At eportfolio workshop

I’m at an eportfolio workshop at Stanford. More on that later.

The weather here is beautiful, much milder than in New Hampshire. I had no idea.

On the other hand, there is a “What to do when there’s an earthquake” card in my hotel room. So perhaps a mixed bag.

There is no “tech”. Get over it.

Via SmartMobs, regarding our millenials:

“Young people don’t see “tech” as a separate entity – it’s an organic part of their lives,” said Andrew Davidson, vice president of MTV’s VBS International Insight unit.

“Talking to them about the role of technology in their lifestyle would be like talking to kids in the 1980s about the role the park swing or the telephone played in their social lives — it’s invisible.”

The more you get into “tech”, the more you realize there’s no such thing. As any systems analyst will tell you: there are processes, and some pieces of them are automated and some aren’t. Some pieces have hardware components, and some don’t. Some storage is on paper, and some on tiny electric switches.

The process is inviting your friends out for a drink. It’s not using the telephone in drink invite mode. You don’t start out and say I need a product to invite my friends out for beers and optionally gin and tonics. And we don’t really worry that the phone is from one vendor, and the cab you take down to the bar is from another.

What we say is — hey, wouldn’t it be neat if instead of having to call everybody seperately I could communicate with them all at once? And slowly that process evolves…

What’s my point? I suppose it’s that from a process standpoint, if we see our personal algorithms as the higher order application, loose coupling has been the norm, more than we realize. And given the worldview of the current crop of kids, we’re likely to get back to that. And that’s a good and powerful thing.

Progress on loosely coupled assessment

So we watched a presentation yesterday by True Outcomes, and of course I had to hold my nose a bit. I come from the “merit badge” school of Roger Schank, that ideally assessments fall into to the category of “Student X can build a fire, and we know that because he built a fire” (or in Schank’s case because he completed a case-based simulation of building a fire). Align a curriculum more towards doing and less toward demonstrating “qualities”, and a lot of assessment headache goes away. In a doing culture, assessment is healthy, because it maps onto real world goals — can this person solve a real world data import problem using a scripting language? Yes? Great! Merit badge!

But “displays knowledge of data analysis techniques and an understanding of how to automate data import processes”? Mapped onto a one to five value rubric?

That’s assessment, and it happens most often when we think the student can’t do anything of value.

That said, I loved the True Outcomes presentation. Why? Because it was pure assessment. There was no eportfolio product attached to it (or rather, the presentation product attached to it was so slight as to be insignificant). What’s more, the students don’t even have to submit into it — there’s a simple option called “Observation” (as opposed to electronic submission) where professors can assess student work outside the program. So if students want to do an eportfolio project in WordPress or Google Documents they could conceivably do it, and just have the professor save a copy of the artifact to local storage somewhere. They want to videoconference it or Skype it in? Again, not a problem. The system doesn’t care.

The point here is that with assessment loosely coupled, the process can be fluid, and defined by the individual needs of the professors. Because the portfolios can be based on an unconstrained worldware approach, professors sold on a Web 2.0 approach are free to push the pedagogical envelope, and let students do things in Blogger, WordPress, or YouTube.  Professors who don’t want to invest time in those things can tell the students to do something or other in MSWord.Â

By not tying the assessment product to the pedagogy, you make sure that you are not hindering your more forward-thinking professors. And you guarantee that as technology evolves outside the college that you’ll automatically benefit from those advances — whether or not you buy the most recent vendor upgrade.

In short, you make evolution possible.

Anyway, I’m very happy about this development. If your institution is currently looking at eportfolio/assessment solutions, I’d suggest that you consider looking at True Outcomes, and put to rest the assessment bit. Then, with the vendor no longer hanging about, suggest a worldware approach to eportfolios and the like.

I’ll keep you all updated on how that goes here.


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