Archives for September 2008

Transition from Traditional to Virtual: Textbooks


EdTech will be hosting a second Teaching and Learning Technology Conference in April 2009. Our theme is the Transition from Traditional to Virtual. In other words, we want presentations on how the classroom/learning environment is transitioning away from the “traditional” model between students and teachers.

Along these lines, there is a movement in some academic circles to move away from horrendously expensive textbooks produced by mammoth publishing houses that dominate the college textbook arena to the more focused, locally developed texts put out by professors at very low cost to themselves. The New York Times had an article recently about how some instructors use electronic publishing to get their works out there for the students. The cost of an electronic textbook can be, in many instances, much, much lower than a standard printed textbook.

Both MIT and a company called Connexions are starting to embrace a more open environment of knowledge sharing. MIT has created a repository of knowledge called OpenCourseWare while Connexions has its own repository.

The content for OpenCourseWare “reflects almost all the undergraduate and graduate subjects taught at MIT”. From what I’ve seen, the content is organized much like a traditional course, although all of the material is delivered electronically. It also is not a substitute for an actual MIT education and you cannot get course credit for using their materials.

Connexions, on the other hand, takes a different approach in that the content is created by a much broader base of users. It is “open source” content, using a Creative Commons license. That means instructors can use material legally (and reuse it) as long as the content is attributed appropriately to the original creator. They also emphasize a modular approach to learning such that the material can be re-arranged in usable chunks to fit a particular style of learning.

In any case, the New York Time article points out that textbook publishers have begun to notice this trend of students going online for their course materials and have jumped onto the bandwagon, so to speak, by creating their own electronic repositories.

Teaching Journal: Using Wimba


I helped Angie Hammons teach Dr. Bih-Ru Lea’s class enter the Wimba
Live Classroom
virtual environment on Blackboard. Dr. Lea teaches a
course about strategic enterprise management configurations. As part of
the course, students are required to use a variety of different remote
conferencing tools that allow them to collaborate in real time with
people half-way around the world. Dr. Lea herself uses WebEx to include
distance students in her on-campus course. WebEx is officially
supported by the VCC here on campus, but EdTech has some exposure to it
as well.

As it turns out, WebEx and
Wimba don’t play nicely with each other. Apparently they compete for
Java Runtime Environment (JRE) resources if they are both being used. However, it is possible to
get them to cooperate once Wimba is finally opened.

Now that I have seen how Dr.
Lea uses Wimba for her class, I hope I can get it to work properly for
Dr. Jacqueline Bechsel of the Psychology department. She will be using
Wimba for the first time on Wednesday of this week. I have agreed to be
on hand to facilitate the use of Wimba in her classroom. She will be
using Wimba in UC 105 (now Centennial Hall 105), also known as the
Technology Classroom. I will have to find a time to go in there
(perhaps early in the morning since I am usually on campus a little
after 7 a.m.) and make sure Wimba works properly. 

I think I will also take the
opportunity to ask Dr. Bichsel if I can observe one of her courses. She
teaches Psych 140 (Experimental Psychology) and Psych 50 (General
Psychology). She probably wouldn’t want me to observe the class on
Wednesday, but maybe a later class.

Is college even necessary these days?

Dr. Trent Batson has another good article in Campus Technology this week asking if sending students to college is really necessary in today’s networked world.

A friend told me recently that people are asking him why learners, in
this age, need to ever attend college to become educated. This question
undoubtedly has occurred to all educators, and to many parents who are
paying tuition. There is perhaps no more raw-edged question than this
in all of higher education: Have we educators become obsolete?

Batson argues that college is indeed necessary for many students, even though students have access to more knowledge today than any other group of people in all of recorded history combined.

Learning, according to Batson, is a process that involves both a learner and an instructor. Indeed, the process of communication between instructor and one or more students is the very foundation of all learning. A highly motivated and focused individual can certainly learn all they need to in a specific discipline using a wide variety of resources. However, a lot of students need a little bit of a push to get going in the right direction. Instructors at college can serve as guides and mentors for students to help them learn their disciplines more effectively than they might if they took a self-study approach.

Colleges also offer the advantages of grouping related material together into degree programs. Students can certainly pick and choose from other courses, but a degree program offers the best opportunities for students to concentrate on a particular discipline (e.g. Chemical Engineering). They can also see how their discipline relates to other disciplines in the same field. For example, Chemical Engineering takes a great deal of its knowledge from chemistry, but chemical engineers also need to learn about engineering-specific knowledge such as fluid dynamics, mass transfer, and process dynamics. A Chemistry student might learn some of these, but they are not required to do so.

I think there is an argument to be made that while college is still necessary for students who want to grow and develop their knowledge in a particular discipline, the paradigm is changing as to how students acquire that knowledge in a college environment. The communication tools today are powerful enough to allow students to essentially pick and choose the college courses they need from a wide variety of schools so that the end goal of knowledge in a given discipline meets the needs of the student’s chosen industry. The real challenge, according to Batson:

It is even harder now to find clarity and coherence because of the huge ration of noise to signal.

College is more necessary than ever. In a flood, the hardest thing to find is drinking water.

Internet Explorer and Blackboard Grade Center


An incompatibility has been identified between Internet
Explorer (IE) web browser and Blackboard Grade Center. Specifically,
several people have reported being unable to save their changes in the Grade
Center when using IE or have reported other strange Grade Center behavior when
using IE as their web browser.

Click HERE for information on how to to set up IE so
that Blackboard Grade Center works properly in IE.

Reminder: Blackboard Seminar Series on Wednesday, September 10

EdTech and CERTI are hosting our first Blackboard Seminar Series for the semester on Wednesday, September 10, 2008 in the Carver / Turner Room of the Havener Center from noon to 1 p.m.
We will be discussing the new Grade Center features of Blackboard along with any other issues that anyone wants to bring up regarding Blackboard 8.
There have been quite a few changes in Blackboard, with the introduction of a host of new features (and, unfortunately, a host of new problems).
If you are unable to attend this one, we will be hosting another Blackboard Seminar Series in October. Stay tuned to IT Press, EdTech Connect, and the eConnection for more information!

Teaching Journal: Blackboard 101


Dr. Northcut has asked me to
teach Blackboard to the Tech Com 404 students (and herself) today. I
think I have a decent outline of topics to cover, such as adding
assignments and managing groups. Unfortunately, I don’t have finished
documentation for some of what I will be covering. I will need to work
quickly to flesh out the documentation that Angie Hammons has put
together so that it is consistent with our other Blackboard

I will also need to cover some
Blackboard-related issues such as browser compatibility. It turns out
that both IE and Firefox 3 have some issues with Blackboard. The
Firefox 3 issue seems to be resolved for now, but the IE issue is a bit
more problematic.

The only real task I have for the students is having them create an assignment for their course.

Teaching Journal: After Teaching English 160

Tuesday, September 2, 2008, I taught my first actual section of English
160, Technical Communication. I was a bit nervous before hand
(understandably so) but I’ve done a fair amount of public speaking and
theatrical work in my day, so this wasn’t a huge deal.

The biggest challenge is simply
to get the students to talk. Using Dr. Northcut’s lesson plan for the
day, I asked the students to comment on 5 sample emails. Although it
took a bit of coaxing on my part, I managed to get quite a bit of good
feedback from students about the emails. They definitely noticed the
deficiencies and offered some suggestions on improvement, such as
including a salutation or being more specific (one email had vague
pronoun references in abundance).

They were a bit confused about
the group assignment at first and that may be partly my fault. I asked
the students to take a look at the grading rubric for their proposal
email assignment and apply that same rubric to the sample proposal
emails. Each group had to appoint a presenter to explain their
findings. Again, they did a pretty good job with this assignment when
they finally got going. I thought they stuck a little too closely to
the rubric, though. 

I also tried to instill in them
some of the importance of writing professional emails. I told them a
story or two about how badly written emails can get people into trouble
(or even fired). I also talked about how email is a business record of
the organization. Finally, I mentioned that email is often the first
impression people have of them. It is to their benefit to write
professional emails, particularly when introducing themselves to

Overall, I thought it went pretty well. I am curious what their reactions will be today when Dr. Northcut teaches the class.