MITC 2008 — Challenges of Creating Online Content

MITC-2008-logo.jpgChallenges of Creating Online Content (PPT 2007)

On October 6-7, 2008, I attended the Morenet Instructional Technology Conference 2008 (MITC). It was an interesting conference focusing on the ways technology is used to enhance learning outcomes in the classrooms. The primary focus seemed to be on K-12 instruction, but there were a number of higher ed folks there as well.

How did we find out about this conference? Well, back in the spring, EdTech attended the Morenet HELIX/CONNECTIONS Conference, which is basically the spring version of what we attended earlier this week. However, HELIX has a broader focus on other areas related to Information Technology such as security, servers, networking, and so forth. MITC was only focused on instructional/educational technology. Morenet began advertising MITC shortly after we attended HELIX, and Meg, our director of EdTech, suggested that I submit a proposal to present at MITC.

After giving it some thought, I decided that I am reasonably knowledgeable about web content (it’s my job to create it, after all), so I figured that I could provide other folks who are curious–or intimidated–by the challenges inherent in creating web-based content. My goal was to guide newer web-developers to think about creating web content in a different way than they may have been exposed to already. I sent my submission into Morenet for review, and–to my surprise, terror, and Meg’s delight–they actually accepted. Furthermore, they decided that my chosen topic, “Challenges of Creating Online Content”, was expansive enough to devote over 2 full hours to. That’s right, they gave me a 2-hour block of time to discuss these challenges. As it turned out, that was just enough time to get through the presentation, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

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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.

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.

Missouri S&T now affiliated with TLT Group

logo-TLTGroup.gifMissouri University of Science and Technology is now affiliated with The TLT Group, a non-profit organization that specializes in helping universities and other organizations with implementing technology in teaching and learning environments. The TLT Group is currently affiliated with about 140 institutions and agencies around the world. Much of the content they have developed has been with collaboration with these institutions. It would be great if Missouri S&T, in pursuit of the goal of becoming a leading institution of the United States, could also become a significant contributor.
The TLT Group has a wealth of resources for educators and also for those of us in Educational Technology whose job it is to help educators. Here are just a few of the resources that are available to us as a subscribing institution:
Flashlight Online Program — This is a web-based survey application that allows you to administer survey questions that are developed collaboratively by you and your peers at other institutions. You can tailor surveys towards a particular audience and even include conditional questions based on certain responses. Dr. Steve Ehrmann, a member of the TLT Group briefly demonstrated the Flashlight Online survey tool to the EdTech group the other day and what we saw was pretty impressive and didn’t look that difficult to use. We will need some initial training on how to use the survey tool (and we’ll need some admin/user accounts for our campus). Hopefully, we can take care of the training and piloting of this tool during the Fall semester.
One of the more interesting aspects of Flashlight Online is the capability for creating matrix surveys. A matrix survey builds questions in a two dimensional array such that the question pools are arranged in columns and the respondent pools are arranged in rows.
Strategies for Faculty Support and Professional Development — This includes diverse strategies such as Brief Hybrid Workshops, TLT Case Studies, Student Technology Assistant Programs, Compassionate Pioneering, and Personalizing Pedagogies. Explore the link for more detailed descriptions of these strategies. Many of the resources are free, but some may require you to pay a fee or may require institutional access (i.e. we have to get the resource as an institution and not as an individual user–EdTech will work with The TLT Group to obtain these resources).
Articles on Planning: Vision & Strategies — A variety of online articles about how technology can be used to change (and hopefully improve) college-level education, among other things. Again, explore the link and see what captures your fancy.
For an example of just what TLT has to offer, here is a YouTube video from Dr. Steve Ehrmann, Vice President of The TLT Group, introducing Three Dimensions of Improvement. Dr. Steve Ehrmann will be the opening keynote speaker at our second annual TLT Conference scheduled for April 9 – 10, 2009 (we are looking for other presenters!).

Go to YouTube to see more videos about or produced by The TLT Group.

Video: How NOT to use PowerPoint

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Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video

It is common today for people, students, to make and share videos to tell stories, complete projects or start debates. The internet and websites like YouTube have helped to make it so much easier to share these video creations. This digital platform allows "old" culture to be transformed into new and for a generation to express themselves on a medium they are very comfortable with. To deny the right of these individuals to be creative, would stifle the emerging culture. The number one question that gets asked is "Can I use this video content in my class?". Up until recently, that questions was met with discussion of copyright and fair use. But what does "fair use" mean? Fair use is the right to use copyrighted material without permission or payment under some circumstances. This definition still left lots of room for interpretation.
A distinguished panel of experts, from cultural scholarship, legal scholarship and legal practice, came together to develop a Code of Best Practices. This code was based on research, current personal and nonprofessional video practices and on fair use. This code of best practices was not designed to be restrictive but to give some guidance and framework as individuals are creating their stories, mashups and debates.
Code of Best Practices
1. COMMENTING ON OR CRITIQUING OF COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL – Individuals have the right to evaluate, scrutinize and comment on copyrighted material. This is a safeguard for freedom of expression.
2. USING COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL FOR ILLUSTRATION OR EXAMPLE – When using copyrighted material for example, individuals simply need to give proper credit just as someone does who is writing a paper.
3. CAPTURING COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL INCIDENTALLY OR ACCIDENTALLY – If it was captured by accident and not staged, it is OK for limited use.
4. REPRODUCING, REPOSTING, OR QUOTING IN ORDER TO MEMORIALIZE, PRESERVE, OR RESCUE AN EXPERIENCE, AN EVENT, OR A CULTURAL PHENOMENON – If an individual takes video of themselves at a concert to remember the experience and they capture some of a song, that is fair use.
6. QUOTING IN ORDER TO RECOMBINE ELEMENTS TO MAKE A NEW WORK THAT DEPENDS FOR ITS MEANING ON (OFTEN UNLIKELY) RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN ELEMENTS – It is the same as creating a collage of pictures. Individuals will put together completely unrelated video segments to create something brand new.
These are simply guiding principles that can be used in a variety of hybrid situations. As video making, mashups continue to evolve so with the fair use practices.
To read the full paper go to Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video
Update (Malcolm Hays): To help underscore the point the authors of this paper are making about Fair Use, they have added a still image of the "Dramatic Chipmunk" video that made its way around the Internet some time ago. The video linked here is simply a short snippet of a longer video wherein a prairie dog turns to face the camera suddenly. Someone put this short snippet to dramatic music and an Internet sensation was born! This could loosely be construed to fit within guideline number 5 above, as it certainly sparked some notoriety and discussion on the Internet (along with spawning a dozen different variations on this theme).

Strategies for Establishing E-learning Policies

In 2004, Educause Quarterly published an article on "The Importance of Policies in E-Learning Instruction" by Shirley Waterhouse and Rodney Rogers. This article is a very good overview of the issues that instructors need to think about when creating online courses. As with any course (traditional or new-fangled technological), it is important to establish from the beginning what your expectations are for your students and what the students can expect from you with regard to grading, homework, assignments, exams, privacy, communication, and so forth. In every class I’ve been in this information is presented in the syllabus.
Many courses on this campus are managed through Blackboard, which enables instructors to post all of the information necessary for the smooth running of a course–assignments, syllabus, supplemental readings, activities, quizzes, and more.
Waterhouse and Rogers provide some recommendations for disseminating the policies in an online course. For example, they have a sample email policy document that clearly delineates what email content is appropriate for the course and what is not and also when a student can expect a reply via email. Waterhouse and Rogers also suggest some alternatives to email communication. Blackboard does have a number of tools available for instructors: you can notify students of important information using the Announcements feature, you can set up discussion threads to discuss particular topics, you can also create blog and wiki entries (creating a blog or a wiki requires some configuration on your part since these features are "add-ons" that are not enabled by default).
Another issue that is critically important with regards to student-instructor interaction is how personal information about a student is handled in the online course (i.e. student privacy policies). Instructors probably shouldn’t release personal information about a student to other students in the class, even if only those students would have access to that information. If you plan to publicize a student’s work, either in or out of class, you should certainly obtain that student’s permission–even if you just want to show off a particularly good example of that student’s work to the rest of the class. Here is a good example of a form you might use to solicit students in what they consider acceptable use of their personal information.
It is also important to establish some policies for student codes of conduct, particularly if you will be encouraging students to engage each other in a discussion forum or other collaborative online social activity. If you read the comments in blogs or discussion forums in non-academic sites, sometimes the conversation can become a little heated, especially if the blog allows for anonymous comment posting (well, pseudo-anonymous, since the ISP hosting the blog can always track down a user via the IP they used to connect to the blog–this may be something to stress to students who work on projects outside of Blackboard. No one accessing the web is truly anonymous.).
Waterhouse and Rogers conclude their article with a comprehensive overview of fair use and DMCA, including a very nice checklist which contrasts activities that favor fair use (i.e. teaching, research, scholarship, etc.) against those activities that don’t (e.g. commercial activity, unpublished works, significantly large excerpts, etc.). Just in the past year, this campus has become much more aggressive about pursuing DMCA violations. The Student Affairs office and IT have teamed up to make students more aware of the potential consequences of a DMCA violation.