Archive for April, 2009

A “Triggering” Opportunity?

April 16th, 2009 jonmott Comments

In 1997, Peter Ewell summarized “what we know” about institutional change:

  1. Change requires a fundamental shift of perspective. 
  2. Change must be systemic.  
  3. Change requires people to relearn their own roles.
  4. Change requires conscious and consistent leadership. 
  5. Change requires systematic ways to measure progress and guide improvement. 
  6. Change requires a visible “triggering” opportunity.

Of late I’ve spent a good deal of time wondering about how to bring about items 1-5. My thinking the past few days, however, has returned to my boss’s maxim regarding crises, wit and opportunities for significant improvement. For better or worse, we’re in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. We have a “triggering” opportunity the likes of which we may never see again in our lifetimes as educational technologists. How can we leverage our current situation to do things we might never have the opportunity to do again? A few suggestions, each paired with Ewell’s first five dimensions of institutional change:

  1. Current fiscal constraints and new accreditation requirements can be leveraged to force a fundamental shift in perspective. Our fundamental responsibility is to provide as much value as possible to our students with whatever resources we have. If our budgets are tight and we’re under-staffed, we have to be creative and figure out new ways to be even more effective than we have been in the past. Our perspective should change from a culture of entitlement to one of stewardship and accountability for student learning.
  2. Whatever our role in the academy, we can all identify and share effective practices being employed around the world to make learning more effective even in the face of resource constraints. Systemic change doesn’t have to be–an in most cases probably shouldn’t be–top-down. We can make systemic change by working together and sharing ideas with each other, both within and outside our institutions.
  3. As painful as it might be to work at an under-staffed institution, this can be a golden opportunity to rethink who does what and why in the learning process. Maybe we need an administrative assistant to support high-enrolling courses more than we need a full-time department secretary. That work might be more effectively passed on to students. And maybe we rethink how we use tools and technologies to build learning communities rather than to simply disseminate information. This list could go on. You get the idea.
  4. As implied in #2, leadership doesn’t always have to come from the top. We can all lead by example, by engaging others in thoughtful dialogue about our circumstances and challenges. But we should also take wise advantage of opportunities to engage in these discussions with academic leaders on our campuses. They are perhaps more open to these sorts of conversations than they ever have been or ever will be again. We need to find ways to help them solve their problems that also lead to the kinds of dramatic improvements in teaching and learning we’re all committed to.
  5. Finally, we have to be brutally self-honest, introspective and transparent about what we do, how we do it, why we do it (remember to begin with the end in mind!), and how we will measure success. If we propose a new approach or a new technology to address a teaching & learning challenge, we better be prepared to measure the impact of our innovation and be accountable for whether or not it worked. Some of what we try will be successful and some of what we try will not. We need to be explicit about this reality and its implications from beginning to middle to end.

We are in difficult times. It behooves us as would-be-agents of change to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime “triggering” opportunity to do some things that are truly innovative, revolutionary and transformational.

I don’t know about you, but I have work to do . . .

An Open (Institutional) Learning Network

April 9th, 2009 jonmott Comments

I’ve been noodling on the architecture of an open learning network for some time now. I’m making a presentation to my boss today on the subject and I think I have something worth sharing. (Nothing like a high-profile presentation to force some clarity of thought.)

I wrote a post last year exploring the spider-starfish tension between Personal Learning Environments and institutionally run CMSs. This is a fundamental challenge that institutions of higher learning need to resolve. On the one hand, we should promote open, flexible, learner-centric activities and tools that support them. On the other hand, legal, ethical and business constraints prevent us from opening up student information systems, online assessment tools, and online gradebooks. These tools have to be secure and, at least from a data management and integration perspective, proprietary.

So what would an open learning network look like if facilitated and orchestrated by an institution? Is it possible to create a hybrid spider-starfish learning environment for faculty and students?

The diagram below is my effort to conceptualize an “open (institutional) learning network.”

Open Learning Network 2.0

There are components of an open learning network that can and should live in the cloud:

  • Personal publishing tools (blogs, personal websites, wikis)
  • Social networking apps
  • Open content
  • Student generated content

Some tools might straddle the boundary between the institution and the cloud, e.g. portfolios, collaboration tools and websites with course & learning activity content.

Other tools and data belong squarely within the university network:

  • Student Information Systems
  • Secure assessment tools (e.g., online quiz & test applications)
  • Institutional gradebook (for secure communication about scores, grades & feedback)
  • Licensed and or proprietary institutional content

An additional piece I’ve added to the framework within the university network is a “student identity repository.” Virtually every institution has a database of students with contact information, class standing, major, grades, etc. To facilitate the relationships between students and teachers, students and students, and students and content, universities need to provide students the ability to input additional information about themselves into the institutional repository, such as:

  • URLs & RSS feeds for anything and everything the student wants to share with the learning community
  • Social networking usernames (probably on an opt-in basis)
  • Portfolio URLs (particularly to simplify program assessment activities)
  • Assignment & artifact links (provided and used most frequently via the gradebook interface)

Integrating these technologies assumes:

  • Web services compatibility to exchange data between systems and easily redisplay content as is or mashed-up via alternate interfaces
  • RSS everywhere to aggregate content in a variety of places

As noted in previous posts, we’re in the process of building a stand-alone gradebook app that is consistent with this framework. We’re in the process of deciding which tools come next and whether we build them or leverage cloud apps. After a related and thought-provoking conversation with Andy Gibbons today, I’m also contemplating the “learning conversation” layer of the OLN and how it should be achitected, orchestrated and presented to teachers and learners . . .

While there’s still a lot of work to do, this feels like we’re getting closer to something real and doable. Thoughts?