A very emotional week

For reasons that will soon become apparent, this blog post covers both ends of the emotional spectrum.  My wife coined the term “congrolences” to describe the past 10 days. Feel free to use it as you read my story.

On Tuesday, February 8th at 10pm, I received a phone call from my Dad saying my Mom had a heart attack and passed away. Her health had been in decline for the past 2 years and, even though these things are never expected, part of me had been preparing for this moment since that rushed Christmas trip to Saskatchewan 2 years ago.  At that time, I remember being shocked when I walked into her hospital room and seeing that my Mom had gray hair. Weekly trips to the hairdresser for a bright red or orange rinse had been on Mom’s appointment calendar since 1982. I had never seen my Mom with her natural hair colour. At that moment I knew things had changed and that the phone call I received from my Dad Tuesday night was inevitable.

Last Wednesday morning at 10am found my sister and myself in the Calgary airport, waiting for a connecting flight to Regina to begin the terrible task of planning a funeral for a parent. I checked my email and discovered a message from Mary Burgess, Director of the Centre for Teaching and Educational Technology at Royal Roads University. She was offering me the newly created position of Manager of Learning Technologies. Less than 12 hours after hearing that my Mom had died, I was being offered a dream job with one of the premiere post-secondary distance learning institutions in the country.

Congrolences: a phrase said to someone when two life-chaging events at opposite ends of the emotional scale occur in a short period of time. I think I need to add that to Wikipedia. Or, at the very least, the urban dictionary.

I accepted the position. Since then, the knowledge that I am joining such a wonderful group of people in CTET at RRU has carried me through some of the darker periods of the past week. Already the reception I have received from Mary, Tracy and others at CTET & RRU during an especially difficult time has served to underscore the fact that this is truly a wonderful group of people working on an equally wonderful slate of projects in one of the most beautiful spots in the world.

There is another set of emotions at play here as well, as I prepare to leave Camosun College, a place that I have been associated with (on and off) for over 15 years. I have some very deep, long term relationships with this institution and the people here. From my time in the Applied Communication Program, to my stint as the station manager of Village 900 radio, to my work in Distributed Education, I have worked with a number of very talented, generous and wonderful people. I will miss them greatly, but take solace in the fact that I am a 5 minute walk from my home to campus and to many of the friends I have here, and many of those friendships spill over outside of the institution. Those will continue.

But right now, I do feel incredibly fortunate to have this new opportunity in front of me. And I know that, somewhere at this moment, my Mom is feeling pretty proud of her son.


Google Body and Art

Two resources created by Google have popped onto my radar screen this week that will certainly be valuable for educators; Google Body and Google Art Project.

Google Art Project is a series of interactive virtual tours of some of the worlds top art galleries built using the same technology that powers Google Maps. You can take virtual tours of the Museum of Modern Art and view works of art like van Gogh’s The Starry Night in incredible detail. Here are some screen captures I took of a close up of this work.

Now, I am no Art student, but even I can see the inherent value for a student  to have access to this level of detail as they understand the techniques of the masters. How much pressure did they use? How did they mix the paint to achieve those colours? What brush did they use to achieve this or that effect? You just can’t get this type of perspective by viewing the work from behind a rope 15 feet away from it.

The second resource is Google Body, an interactive 3d model of the human body (this one requires Google Chrome, Firefox 4, or another browser that currently support WebGL to get the full effect). This is an immersive 3d body simulation that looks to me like it was built using similar technologies to Google Earth. You can fly around and into the body at different angles, strip away layers and examine the body from it’s various system perspectives. If you don’t have a browser capable of viewing, here is a short video of the technology in action (there is no audio with the video):


3 research studies on potential advantages of using Twitter in the classroom

Three academic studies are cited in this article about Twitter, and how it can increase student engagement, enhance social presence, and help develop peer support models among students through the formation of personal learning networks.

Amplify’d from spotlight.macfound.org
A small but impressive study of students at Lockhaven University in Pennsylvania found that those who used Twitter to continue class discussions and complete assignments were more engaged in their classwork than students who did not.

Four sections (70 students) were given assignments and discussions that incorporated Twitter, such as tweeting about their experiences on a job shadow day or commenting on class readings. Three sections (55 students) did the same assignments and had access to the same information, but didn’t use Twitter.

In addition to showing more than twice the improvement in engagement than the control group, the students who used Twitter also achieved on average a .5 point increase in their overall GPA for the semester.

An earlier study [pdf] by Joanna C. Dunlap and Patrick R. Lowenthal from the University of Colorado at Denver found that Twitter was able to “enhance social presence” and produce other instructional benefits in an online course.

Another experiment into the use of social media at the University of Leicester found that tweeting helps to develop peer support among students and personal learning networks and can be used as a data collection tool. Read a more detailed description of the experiment here. [via Faculty Focus]

Read more at spotlight.macfound.org