Category Archives: Technology and Education

If you are an educator, do you work in tech?

One of my pastimes is looking at articles about how journalism and media companies are becoming tech companies then trying to extrapolate their experience out to what higher education might experience in the coming years. Of course I can acknowledge that journalism and higher education are different in some ways, but at their roots both are fundamentally about communication, and communication as practiced has been in a state of upheaval in the last few decades. Journalism is more dependent on technologies to enable the practice to exist and as such journalists feel the consequence of changes in communication technology much more directly and quickly. So when I saw this piece from Cindy Royal at the Nieman Journalism Lab I pricked up my ears:

If you are a journalism educator or media professional, I have news for you: We work in tech.

in tech, not with tech. I believe Royal is arguing we are moving beyond an era where technology was merely an enabler of the practice of journalism, but actually intrinsically part of what defines those practices.

More from Cindy Royal:

Internet and web technologies don’t just represent a new medium where print and multimedia can live in harmony. The ways we communicate both personally and professionally have been profoundly altered. Communication is technology, and technology is communication. That’s the true convergence.

A big mistake was thinking that the internet was just a more efficient way to carry out the same old workflows. Consider this recent piece from NY Times:

Ask Ezra Klein what prompted him to leave a high-profile position at The Washington Post to start a new website, and the answer is a little wonkish, even for the founder of the newspaper’s Wonkblog, a mix of politics, economics and domestic policy that had become must reading in the Beltway.

It was, in essence, about content management systems, Mr. Klein said.

“We were badly held back not just by the technology, but by the culture of journalism,”

It is interesting to read this as we are starting to discuss issues related to content management systems at Penn State. These things actually matter. It is not a question of picking a commodity tech system from a list of vendors. Your organization can be defined by what your technological systems allow or don’t allow. What it enables and discourages. Does the system professionalize or de-professionalize your creators (journalists or faculty)? Where is it on the spectrum of rigid to flexible?

I started by saying that I have been looking at the dialogue around the transformation of journalism and media companies and using it as somewhat of a signpost to help predict where the dialogue around higher education institutions will be in a few years. Several years ago I catalogued a bunch of dialogue on the subject. Both those items and the pieces I linked to in this post point to a world where technology is a required core competency of a journalism or other media company. I don’t believe many higher ed institutions see technology as a core competency. Does that need to change?

Rebuilding The Ship As We Sail It – Penn State Gen Ed Reform

Our partnership with the TLT Studio has gone some distance in modeling a way of using digital media to cultivate community around an important education reform issue. Because Penn State is a single university geographically dispersed, the GenEd Matters site has become a kind of marketplace of ideas and information about the GenEd reform process. We have sought to include a wide public in these conversations and, as a result, we have received an enormous amount of very helpful feedback on the process and suggestions for the emerging curriculum.

The site is continually being updated, its functionality improved even as we use it to engage in conversation. It’s a little like rebuilding the ship of Theseus as we sail it. Still, it is an intensely collaborative endeavor as we think about how design impacts discussion and how transformative reform can be undertaken in and with a thoughtful public.

via General Education Reform at Penn State | Christopher P. Long.

It has been so thrilling to work with The Gen Ed Task Force on building this platform to promote both the transparency of the Task Force and the participation of the entire Penn State community. I feel it is serving as a model for the way Penn State can communicate on the web, a multi-directional large-scale dialogue around core issues to the institution.

I especially love the adventure of rebuilding the ship as we sail it, as Chris puts it. Partly this was born from the necessity to start the communications as soon as possible. We were forced to embrace an ongoing, iterative, highly collaborative approach to this project, which just further underscores the fact that the site is exposing in-process thinking, not a tidy final nugget of a recommendation around Gen Ed. It also is a demonstration of the approach we embrace at the TLT Studio: learning by doing, iterating quickly, and adjusting as we go.

In fact, the best comparison for a Chromebook is not a Windows PC, but an iPad. Both are appliance-like devices that are easy-to-use, impossible-to-break, and designed first and foremost for the experience, not the feature list.

via Chromebook Followup.

Came across some more writing on the whole Chrome OS and less is more philosophy.

don’t swim upstream through media

When you are trying to encourage learners to engage with various media, such as a social networking systems or other forms of participation, don’t try to twist the tools to act and behave exactly as you think they should work. Don’t fight the native way they are already being used. Focus on what you want students to learn, and how various media refract the potential lessons differently. At some point you should be able to float downstream and see where it takes you

Instead of trying to force a platform to be conform to the pre-conceived notion you have in your head, open yourself to how communication, expression, interaction, conversation happens in that medium, and embrace it. This could be for something general like “blogging”, or something very specific such as a using a particular service that is a media onto itself, such as instagram. If you are using tumblr, see what happens when students on tumblr start reblogging and making image posts.

It is great that these platforms tend be based on flexibility, but there is also a breaking a point where you can’t flex it anymore. I guess knowing where that is partly an art. There is something to be said of letting new media inform how learning can be experienced versus trying to approach it the other way around.

Credit to Sam Richards and his crew. Our conversation this  morning about evolving the use of social media in his large enrollment sociology class led me to this place. 

rambling on about Chrome OS

Word on the street is that Chromebook sales are taking up a big chunk of the pie, putting the squeeze on Microsoft.

The Acer chromebook mentioned in the above link entered our household this holiday season and it is not a bad little machine, especially considering the price. The fact that it is basically just a web browser can feel limiting sometimes, but with chrome’s native client and the filesystem api, developers can make very appy things for chrome and chrome OS. Try this text editor to see what I am talking about. Some of these apps access your google drive space the way a native app would access your local filesystem. Very convenient. There are SSH clients for chrome OS, so it works for me when I am doing some web dev or other types of hacking. I still can’t use chrome for the production of my podcast or to manage my 700+ GB photo library and photo editing. Although I would love for a cloud based, machine independent, photo workflow.

Of course there are ways that less is more. I feel like when I am buying a chrome OS device, I am not getting ensnared in all the stuff that goes along with a new device – Do I need to back it up? create accounts for my various family members? how do I transfer my settings and data from my old machine to this new one?  With a chromebook all you do is log in with your google account and go. It is one thing to manage a computer (OS X or Windows) for yourself, but with a family of four and me being the IT support for the household, being able to outsource that to google isn’t so bad. You can imagine the significance and effort-saving when you apply this model to businesses, schools, governments.

I see potential in Chrome OS.

Frank Chimero:

I’m pretty good at juggling, but I feel split and overwhelmed, because these networks are sorted by what things are (a photo, video, snarky quip, etc.), rather than who made them. My brain works in the opposite way.

So, I’m doubling down on my personal site in 2014. In light of the noisy, fragmented internet, I want a unified place for myself—the internet version of a quiet, cluttered cottage in the country.

Penn State Is Revisiting General Education On The Open Web

A screenshot of the Gen Ed At PSU web site

I’ve been watching the discussion about revising general education at Penn State and marveling at how the task force is using the web and social media to engage the Penn State community. Last Thursday there was a day long conference on the topic, there is a twitter feed,  a web site, and posts on individual blogs. If you are wondering why my colleagues and I work to provide an easy, low-barrier web publishing solution to Penn State, just look at the use this task force is making of the web as one of the 100,000 reasons to provide such a system to a University community. I have to give props to Penn State and the Gen Ed task force for the way this process is playing out as a conversation on the web. I am not sure you could find the same thing everywhere.

from instructional design to learning engineering

Last week I came across the term “learning engineer” for the first time. Putting those two words together certainly sounded interesting, so I went to google to try to find more information about how people are using this term of art. Based on google, it doesn’t seem that this is a term that has caught on too much, but there is this post by Bill Jerome, The Need For Learning Engineers (and Learning Engineering):

A learning engineer is a part of the process that improves or expands the technologies they work with. An instructional designer is often handed a suite of available technologies and content and told to make something of it. A learning engineer works both pedagogically and technologically to improve, create and make a whole experience and then evaluate the effectiveness of it with data.

This reminds me of the drum I have been beating for a while, but approached from the learning sciences vector rather than the consumer technology / media vector. Universities don’t necessarily think of themselves as creating new education technology, but rather the consumer of existing technologies. However, simply stapling together a bunch of different technologies or even using a one-size-fits-all homegrown solution to deliver online education may no longer be adequate.

Liberal Arts Scholarship and Technology Summit

I had the privilege of attending the Liberal Arts Scholarship and Technology Summit last week. I was blown away seeing all the engagement in exploring technologies for scholarship and teaching.

Unfortunately my schedule didn’t allow me to see Trevor Munoz’s keynote, but I am looking forward to visiting it once the video is posted.

Chris Long’s presentation on performative publication in the digital age focused on two boundary pushing projects: 1) an enhanced digital book that invites readers to share annotations and engage each other and the author in conversation and 2) the Public Philosophy Journal.

Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor talked about various places where feminist pedagogy and technology are intersecting, including FemTechNet’s antidote to the MOOC – A Distributed Open Collaborative Course on Feminism and Technology. Check out the cool infographic. Looking forward to watchingPenn State faculty participating in this adventure in pedagogy.

Michele Kennerly and Cory Geraths talked about the use of pinterest in their communication arts and sciences course – linking the centuries-old practice of compiling commonplace books to the modern act of maintaing a pinterest or a tumblr.  I think this kind of ongoing collection of mixed-media representations of knowledge, arguments, and inspirations is something underrepresented in my own vision of the pedagogical use of digital participation, which has focused perhaps too heavily on lengthy reflections.

There was a faculty workshop offered on “Domain of One’s Own” – getting faculty set up with their own hosting account and domain to truly take control of their own participatory infrastructure.

Last year students in the rhetoric and civic life course sequence  created over 17,000 blog posts using Sites At Penn State. (A service very near and dear to my heart)

Sites At Penn State got another shout out as the host of the Digital Humanities Guide.

Watching all the presentations which focused on tools and providers like pinterest, bluehost, cartodb, Google+, it just hit home how the technology in the academy has got to play nicely with the technology “out there”.  It is really encumbent on those of us in higher ed technology to know when to stay out of the way and know when to apply just the right amount of energy to augment all the fantastic abilities that are at everyone’s fingertips.

Bottom Line, though, is that there is a lot of cool stuff happening in Penn State’s College Of Liberal Arts.


Google Reader is going away. Doesn’t bother me, even though I use it everyday. All things are impermanent. Reader made me happy while it lasted, but now I will start anew, reading other things, using different tools. The fire renews the forest.