CATS2013: Facing the Future, the 16th annual, and my first, Academic Technology conference was yesterday at the CSULB Anatol Center. The California State University (CSU) with 23 campuses, 436,000 students, and 44,000 faculty members and staff, is the largest university system in the United States. Fittingly, CATS2013 is not one event, but 3. Chapters 1 & 2 were last month at Sonoma State, and Cal Poly SLO, with the final day yesterday at CSULB.
In this slide from Chris Mattia’s keynote talk he asks if we should still grade papers with a red pen, or typed comments that are much more legible but time consuming, or use voice annotation technology to mark as we read. I absolutely believe in the importance of compelling writing, and as a reader for our Writing Proficiency Exam I know that out students are not all excellent, still, as a reader I have some small idea of the number of hours academics across the land spend reading and marking up assigned writing. It’s a staggering number of hours.
Out in the blogosphere peeps write what’s compelling to them, and others do or don’t respond to it. I wonder if networked interaction space might not be a more efficient and engaging space to develop writing skills. You’ll never get the precise grammar and punctuation corrections an English professor can give you, but presumably Shakespeare, Hemingway, and various others somehow developed adequate skills without the benefit of a mentor’s red pen. Is there a space where we free students of “assigned” writing and faculty of endless reading, and instead empower learners to cast their words out to the world and hone their skills through a combination of reading and the less technical feedback of other interested peeps?
Online, MOOCs & Isolation
In his talk Online 2.0: The Future of Online Learning, Peter Campbell from Blackboard gave us his view of the good and bad news for The University vis-a-vis MOOCs.
THE BAD NEWS: If your University courses aren’t at least as compelling as a free MOOC, you’re really in trouble!
THE GOOD NEWS: Campbell doesn’t believe that MOOCs can get to “2.0.” He sees their massiveness as a limiting factor for engagement and that many of the weaknesses of MOOCs are real strengths of The University.
I’m sure he’s part right. In my own MOOC student experience it’s true that I didn’t have email correspondence with the instructor. But I did “see” him twice a week in face-to-face videos where he not only lectured but also commented on student input on the course forums and wiki. And on those forums and that wiki there was as much peer interaction as you wanted. I was impressed by how active the forums were and how quickly posts got voted up or refined.
Another interesting idea Campbell expressed was the feeling of Isolation that online courses can produce. I’m thinking a lot about these issues as I prepare to teach my first 100% online course this summer. I do believe that short lecture videos, viewed at the time and place of the student’s choosing, may well be more engaging than sleeping in my giant 378-seat F2F lecture hall. Campbell suggested that while students appreciate the asynchronous options for viewing, testing, and projects, that
For a significant number of students the asynchronous experience is not enough.
I was planning to make the course 100% asynchronous, as I didn’t want anyone to feel that if they missed even an optional chat that they were somehow getting less out of the experience. Perhaps I can slice Office Hours up to a range of days / times and try Google Hangouts with students. For whoever wants it that’d certainly offer synchronous, live video interaction with myself and their peers. I think Google Hangouts can accomodate 10 video streams, and more users not on video. 10 should be plenty for us! 🙂
I’ve been listening to podcasts from The Berkman Center for Internet and Society for years now. I owe Charlie Nesson a debt I’ll never be able to repay in a single lifetime. Just as some people have spent so many hours with Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry in their living rooms that they start to feel they know them, so I have spent so many hours driving in my car with Johathan Zittrain and Lawrence Lessig I almost start to feel I know them.
Education in our century is one of many ideas explored at Berkman. From there and other sources I’ve realized that the era of The Sage on the Stage, if that mode of learning was ever really efficient, is now flowing down to its nadir. But I’ve also found that, at least in a large freshman lecture course, when you lecture less, the students do miss out on so much context, and their project work regresses toward the predictable and the banal.
So I was exited to visit CSULB’s AS-244, the Collaborative Learning Classroom and hear Leslie Kennedy’s talk on this one “experimental” room on campus. The most persuasive information Kennedy offered was not how engaging or immersive or interactive the room was, but that it wouldn’t be the one room for long:
• September 2013: 4 Collaborative Classrooms at CSULB
• September 2014: 34 Collaborative Classrooms at CSULB
If that isn’t the handwriting on the dry-erase wall, well… And indeed the room is engaging. I spent a semester teaching in Fullerton’s All the Arts for All the Kids program, visiting many 1st through 6th grade classrooms, and the organization of this space reminded me of nothing so much as a 2nd grade classroom in Fullerton. Of course education has never been an all-lecture affair, The Arts have always featured “Studio” classes, and The Sciences have always featured “Lab” classes. And even if an English class is in a traditional classroom, those old wooden desks are very quickly turned to form “collaborative” reading and discussion groups.
On another level, I sometimes wonder why we focus on classrooms at all: are we focused on learning? Or day care? Why is it a special “field trip” to leave the classroom and go out to the tide pools? Shouldn’t the whole course be at the tide pools and it’s a special day when we meet at a classroom to discuss our experiences?
Open Space Discussions
All the talks I was able to attend were good, and as is so often the case, the impromptu conversations in the hallways and between sessions were even better. For the last hour of the conference these informal conversations were presented formally… or informally formal… in Open Space Discussions. We discussed a diverse set of interesting topics, and perhaps even more than the useful information, ideas, and opinions, it was just a pleasure to see minds at work.
Even though being on a university campus is such an extraordinary privilege, like any other career it still has plenty of day-to-day pressures and frustrations. It’s inspiring to step away from that and remember just how many smart and motivated students, staff, and faculty there are on the 23 campuses of this largest-in-America University system.