Correcting Wikipedia history on educational radio in Canada

Valerie Irvine and Irwin DeVries are working on a project documenting the history of open education in Canada. If you have run into Irwin in the last few months, chances are you’ve seen him lugging around some video equipment and maybe even tapping you on the shoulder to get a clip on the role you have played in the history of open education and edtech in Canada.

One of the areas where I am hoping to contribute to the project is around the role of educational radio in Canada. While radio courses have a very long and deep history, I find they often get forgotten when the history of edtech and open education comes up.

My personal perspective isn’t historically deep, considering the roots of radio education stretch back to the 20’s in Canada. I only goes back 20 years to the work I did in the mid 90’s at CKMO radio, a campus/community radio station located at Camosun College in Victoria BC. By the time I began working on radio courses there, educational radio was at the end of its run as a robust delivery platform for open courses. Funding for one of the pillars of educational radio stations in Canada, CJRT in Toronto, had just been pulled by the then Conservative government in Ontario, and CKUA in Edmonton was also under severe financial strain.*

However, as shallow as my perspective may be, I know when something doesn’t look quite right, like the Wikipedia article on the Open College  in Toronto (link leads to old version of the page). When I looked at the article this morning, the first sentence popped out at me:

onlyThat is a pretty bold statement considering that, even with my short term 20 year horizon to draw on, I can name at least 2 other radio-based university-credit distance education providers in CKUA in Edmonton and CKMO in Victoria. Both offered open courses on the air and both were accredited; CKUA through Athabasca University and CKMO through Camosun College. CKUA in Edmonton is often credited with being the first radio station to program educational content, starting in 1927.

So, I hit edit and made a change to Wikipedia to fix what, I think, is an inaccurate statement. The first line of the article now reads:

onlyfixNow when people read about the history of Open College, they will see that they were not the only ones doing this. As important as Open College was, there were others doing formal radio based educational programming in Canada.

Update: Grant Potter, also lover of radio and quick on the draw with finding cool stuff on the web, shared this video about the early history of CKUA.

*An aside: CKUA and Athabasca offered up one of the finest explorations of music I’ve ever heard with the fantastic radio course Ragtime to Rolling Stones which, if you listened to it on CKUA in the early 90’s was free to hear. But if you try to access it via the web today….well.)


WordPress pilot docs

In 2009 I was working at Camousn College & was given the opportunity to do a WordPress pilot project at the college. We were looking for a solution for faculty who wanted to publish content to the web, but didn’t want the overhead of an LMS. We were using Microsoft FrontPage for many years, but our IT folks were rolling out Windows 7, which didn’t support FrontPage. So the time seemed right for a WordPress project.

A tweet from Tanis Morgan at the JI prompted me to post these resources as they might be a useful starting point for some who are looking to run a WordPress pilot at their institution. The WordPress pilot documentation does contain some links to further resources (although those links might now be dead as it has been 4 years since I created these documents).

Sorry these are in PDF – breaking my own rules of reuse here. Bad OER advocate, bad! But I seem to have lost the original Word docs.

WordPress Pilot Document

Executive summary

Distributed Education would like to run a 9 month pilot project to evaluate the use of the WordPress publishing platform as a possible tool for faculty to use to develop and maintain stand alone websites and/or a blogs.

DE has identified 2 goals for the pilot:

  1. The primary goal is to determine the feasibility of using the WordPress platform as a replacement for FrontPage and Contribute for stand alone faculty websites at Camosun.
  2. A second goal will be to examine the use of WordPress as a traditional blog platform for faculty who wish to explore blogging as part of their pedagogical practice.

The rationale for this pilot is threefold:

  1. The current standard website maintenance tool, FrontPage, has been deprecated by Microsoft and will soon become unsupported.
  2. There is still considerable demand from faculty for stand alone websites that live outside of Desire2Learn, yet are still supported by the College (see June 2009 ITS/DE Staff Survey).
  3. There has also been demand from faculty, departments and other organizations within the college for assistance from Distributed Education in setting up blogs. In the past 6 months, DE has supported the use of blogs for various projects in a number of schools including Health & Human Services (, Arts and Science (, and the English Creative Writing Program ( These blogs have been developed on platforms outside of Camosun.

Download WordPress Pilot Document (PDF 5 pages)

FrontPage Replacement Rationale

This report provides a rationale as to why WordPress was chosen to replace FrontPage for standalone faculty websites.

Download FrontPage Replacement Rationale (PDF 6 pages)



So long and thanks for all the global beats Village 900

This is a long post. The kind of post that I write more for myself because it is fairly personal and not something that is directly related to what I usually write about here. Or maybe it is. If you decide to slog through my memories and recollections, you can decide.

I heard a few days ago that Village 900 radio at Camosun College is going off the air on March 4th.

Village 900 is/was licensed as an instructional radio station, one of a handful of stations across Canada that had this instructional designation. Meaning it’s primary purpose was to train broadcasters. It was  experiential education at is finest, and, for the past 20 years, students in the Applied Communication Program at Camosun have been using the station as a launching pad for media and communication careers.

But, as we all know, times are a-changing for traditional media, and for the educators who teach in that field. I won’t get into the details of why the station is going off the air. Suffice to say, this day has been inevitable.

Why do I care?

I have wonderful memories of managing that station from 1995 (when it was then CKMO radio, a small 50 watt FM radio station) to 2001. During that time, I had the opportunity to work with so many people who, if you live in Victoria and pay attention to any media outlet in the city – mainstream, public or alternative – are probably part of your everyday life. I turn on almost any radio station in town, open a newspaper, scan a local website, hear a soundbite delivered by a spokesperson of the government/non-profit/corporation/event, hear an announcement on a ferry, voiceover in a tourist attraction and I see and hear the voices of the graduates of the Applied Communication Program. So, my first memory is of the students and faculty I have worked with over the years associated with both the station and ACP.

I was there for the birth of Village 900. Early on, the idea of Village 900 was unique. Moving away from the traditional block formatting you usually find on alternative or campus radio stations, we focused on ways in which we could continually provide an aural reflection of the cultural diversity in our community. We created a melting pot of sound, blending world, worldbeat, traditional folk and roots music continuously throughout the day. One minute you might hear the Algerian club rai of Cheb Mami, the next the lipstick, lies and gasoline of Fred Eaglesmith. We dubbed the music format Global Roots, and tagged the station with the identity of Village 900 – A World of Music, A Community of Ideas.

We imported programming from around the world, airing shows from Radio Netherlands, the BBC, Channel Africa, the United Nations. We took this idea of global culture seriously, and tried hard to reflect it on the air by making connections with public broadcasters from around the world to air their programming . This was really early days of the Internet when this stuff wasn’t available with a click like it is now. Radio programs arrived weekly in the mail on cassettes, reel to reel tape, and CD’s. If we were lucky, we might get a satellite feed.

There was also a real commitment to local artists from Victoria, the Gulf Islands and Vancouver. Chances are, if you were a world or folk/roots act based in Victoria, you passed through the doors of Village 900, often with guitar in hand, pulling up a mic and tossing out a few tunes live on the air.

Village 900 and its predecessor CKMO are intensely personal for me in a couple of ways.

First, as part of the development team, it was a station that embodied and reflected my own deeply held beliefs in the power of universality, multiculturalism, education and culture.

It also introduced to me the entire world of alternative media through the works of people like Noam Chomsky and Neil Postman. By virtue of being a “campus” radio station, I had the opportunity to see both radio and the media in a whole different way than when I worked at a commercial radio station. In fact, it validated for me that community radio is what radio is supposed to be, and that commercial radio (and, by extension television as well) is, for the most part, a tragic waste of a publicly owned bandwidth.

I used to be passionate about that (and God love ya VIU for keeping this students writing from 1997 alive and available on the web 15 years after the fact. It’s a credit to you and your IT people that you have not trashed this stuff and sent me scrambling to the Internet Archives to dig it up). But today, in a world where anyone can be the media, I don’t care that much any more. The media has been democratized, and there are other, more important battles these days.

Village 900 was also a low risk experiment which afforded me the opportunity to play; to try things unencumbered by a ton of constraints. Sure, I had some parameters, but for the most part as long as the station met the mandate of training communication students while abiding to the broadcasting laws and regualtions we were governed by, I was pretty well left to my own devices. I had autonomy to make decisions and try different things.

The website, for example, was my ongoing personal learning laboratory – a project for me to experiment with. Which meant that, in 1995, I could do things like make a station website even when I had no idea how the web worked.  I did it because I could follow my interest (passion based learning?)  into this new thing called the web. I was an active BBS user in the early 90’s, so was curious as to what this whole web thing was about. After building a website, and then another, and another, I got hooked. My love of the web – both the technologies and the culture – was ignited at that station.

Working at the station also ignited another lifelong passion for me; a love of education. One of the truly unique aspects of the station was the requirement that we air educational radio programs. What that meant was that we had to, as a condition of our broadcast license, work with faculty at the College to create for-credit courses that aired on the radio. In 1995 when I first got to the station, I saw this requirement of our license as a bother – a technicality that needed to be filled.

Oh, how wrong I was.

What started as a requirement soon became one of my favorite activities. I loved working with the faculty and producing their radio programs. We did all kinds of wonderful programs.

I remember working quite closely in those early days (95/96/97) with a Psychology instructor named Gary Anderson. With Gary, we created a handful of Psychology radio courses. Each course consisted of 12, 1 hour radio shows. We went all out. Gary was full of ideas and had tons of energy. He had vision and a passion for radio. He loved the medium. The storytelling, the conversational aspect that great radio presenters have, the theatre of the mind, the ability to connect with experts via telephone. We interviewed psychologists, created radio dramas, had panel discussions, dramatizations, went out of the studio and did streeters. This was not a single instructor talking for an hour at a time. These were full on productions. At our height, we were airing 30 hours a week of educational programming, including English, French, Psychology, Geography and Physics courses.

Little did I realize that during the process of creating these courses, I was being turned into an educational technologist.

Looking back on it now, I realize that this was the pivotal moment in my career when I began to feel more like an “educator” and less like a broadcaster. Which is funny because, even though I worked as an instructional assistant with students carrying out the day to day operations of the radio station, it was working on those radio courses that made me feel like I was doing something “educational”.

It was during the development of these radio courses that I first heard the word pedagogy (wish Wikipedia was around that day), and was lucky enough to work with both a skilled broadcaster and educator in Helen Pearce, who understood more than anyone I have worked with, how to use audio in an educational context.

So, here we are…at a thousand words and I could probably write another thousand about what a profound influence working at CKMO/Village 900 and in the Applied Communication Program at Camosun has had on my career and my life. Transformative experiences in higher education are not limited to students.

In recent years, my involvement in the operations of the station has diminished. After leaving the Applied Communication Program in 2001 to delve deeper into the web side of the edtech world, I did sit on the board of the station for a few more years. But I found that I was too close to it and had taken it as far as I could. It needed new blood to survive. Like a parent who knows that it is time to let their child go, I had to step away.

After hearing the news, I’m feeling both sad and nostalgic. Like an important piece of my life is passing into history. Perhaps this is a eulogy written for an old dear friend who, when we were both younger, would walk along the same path. But upon reaching the fork, chose different directions.

It will be an odd sensation on March 5th when I hit preset #4 on my car radio and hear nothing but dead air.


Skype as disruptive educational technology

sign of the times

I realized something tonight as I read the story of how Virginia Tech professor John Boyer landed a Skype interview for his World Regions class with Aung Sun Suu Kyi, leader of the democratic movement in Burma – I don’t give near enough credit to Skype as a disruptive educational technology.

I’ve helped faculty use it for just this kind of activity – bring in a guest from a distance as a guest speaker, and not thought twice about it. I’ve read stories of teachers who have used it to bring sick kids into class so they don’t fall behind. People are using it to connect with native language speakers to learn another language.

All this for free in a package that most grandparents use to speak with their grand-kids.

Maybe it’s because Skype has reached that point where it has become boring which, according to Shirky, is now the point where the conversation becomes interesting. Which is to say, once we stop our fascination with the technology itself and it becomes first mundane and then invisible, then and only then do we begin to see the change it has on society. Maybe Skype is at that point.

Tomorrow John Boyer is introducing his students to Aung Sun Suu Kyi. Want to see a group of motivated students? Check out the last 30 seconds of Boyer’s video request to Aung Sun Suu Kyi, posted on YouTube.

But it doesn’t have to be someone world famous to make it relevant for students. For Camosun College video instructor Andy Bryce, it was a former grad of the Applied Communication Program who now works for CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.

Which begs the question, who do your students want to see in your class?

Photo: sign of the times by Doug Symington used under Creative Commons license.


Unleash the power of networked learning

Excerpt from article by Martha Stone Wiske, Harvard Graduate School of Education in Harvard Business Review

Amplify’d from
Unleashing the Power of Networked Learning

What’s different is that the top-down, center-out approach to traditional education is dramatically diminished. Learner-generated, informal interactions, short messages, and nonverbal media are the norm in these networked learning situations. No longer are we worried about “warming up” the online environment — it’s plenty hot! No longer are we pondering the advantages of deliberate, reflective, collaborative knowledge construction in a formal threaded discussion forum. We are tapping into a cacophony of rapid fire exchange that is more like scrappy conversation bursts at a party than orderly discourse of academic knowledge building.

How do we conceive and harness the power of networked learning in this context? Well, that’s the new question this year. Clearly networked learning can be powerful: just ask Hosni Mubarak. The current generation of students in high school, college, and graduate school are figuring this out. Their teachers need to ask themselves, “How do we work with our learners to foster the critical thinking, complex communication, and collaborative construction of warranted knowledge that we believe it is our responsibility to do?” What is clear is that we won’t be in charge the way we used to be or thought we were.




Camaraderie can be potent

I love this phrase “coaxing serendipity” as a way to describe the process that results when a loosely structured informal social environment of like minded people occurs. I’ve experienced this kind of serendipity in my own learning as a result of the loose connections I make using social networks.

I don’t think these informal salons are something that are necessarily exclusive to the domain of artists or cultural creatives, but rather any type of CoP or NoP where a common practice occurs. Same thing with the tip on making it ridiculous – not something I think is crucial, but I agree that loose and fun will win out at the end of the day.

via Chris Lott

Amplify’d from
The establishment of informal “salons” or “circles” of artists or cultural creatives dates back to the Ancient Greeks and is a common feature of several touchstone cultural movements from impressionism to abstract expressionism to beat poetry.  The free-flowing exchange of ideas in a social setting serves to encourage deeper thinking, challenge assumptions, and expand resources – crucial aspects of any creative career. 

Furthermore, a consistent regular forum for discussion acts as a method to “coax serendipity” or encourage chance overlaps that lead to something exceptional: an idea that turns into a novel, the mention of a name that turns into a mentor, an acquaintance that becomes a star client.

A few tips on coaxing serendipity
1. Gather the right people.
2. Don’t dwell on making history.
3. Keep the agenda loose and social.
4. Establish consistency.
5. Keep it ridiculous.
Camaraderie can be potent.




Tools for distributed learning research

Article from The Guardian about new research done on an MA level distance program and how some specific technology tools were incorporated into the program. Specifically, e-readers, Second Life and audio. Interesting that Second Life was being used as an asynchronous resource instead of a synchronous meeting space, which is how I usually read about Second Life being used. I also liked that students enjoyed & appreciated the audio feedback from other students & their tutor and appeared to pay more attention to comments received via audio than text. There is something appealing to me in the linear presentation of audio feedback that might make learners less likely to skim through feedback.

Amplify’d from

Research carried out recently among a group of students enrolled on a distance MA Tesol course at Leicester University offers a glimpse into a not-too-distant future when learners distributed around the world but linked via the internet will be able to enhance their learning experience with the use of some simple and low-cost digital tools.

with a simple voice recording program and headphone-and-mic sets it is possible for students to add audio clips to these message board postings
as part of the trial students and teachers were encouraged to post feedback about their work and exchange messages.

“It was incredibly successful,” Witthaus said. “Audio feedback gives the students the sense of their tutor as a real human being.”

She says tutors began to create a more effective, time-saving combination of text and audio. “They found they could write quick little annotations on students’ essays and then elaborate more in the audio feedback.”

The research also revealed that students appeared more willing to listen to feedback via audio than to commit time to reading written comments.

One other interesting result of the research was how communication could still be effective when it was asynchronous, particularly for study groups spread across different times zones.

This was most apparent with the use of Second Life. Instead of attempting to get student to congregate, in their avatar personas, in some part of the vast virtual world at the same time, the teaching staff identified where language learning was going on in SL and instructed students to carry out observations of what was happening in these virtual classrooms.

“The e-readers fitted into their lives. They didn’t necessarily replace print or their laptops or smartphones, it just fitted in. They used them in contexts where it worked for them.”




ICT’s: Complement or Substitute to F2F?

Something I have been noticing in my own virtual connections is that, whether on Facebook or Twitter, I am conversing more and more with people I associate with IRL. I’ve been wondering why this is, and I think it has to do with the mainstreaming of these two social networks. When I began using FB in 2007 and Twitter in 2008, they were still the domains of early adopters, who tended to be geographically dispersed. However, as these social networks have moved into the mainstream, there are many more people who I associated with face to face on a regular basis that I also communicate with in these forums. ICT’s have always been a great way to geographically shrink the world, and I certainly do still have strong connections with people on the other side of the world that I have never met f2f. But increasingly my inner trusted virtual circle – the people who I have the most interactive discussions with – are people who I am in fairly close physical proximity to.

In the language of economics, the core question is whether face-to-face interactions and electronic connections are substitutes or complements
In our original paper, we argued that the number of human interactions was hardly a zero-sum game, and more electronic interactions didn’t have to mean fewer meetings face-to-face.

If the new media increased the number of relationships – the connectedness of the world – more than it decreased personal meetings within any given relationship, then better electronic communications could increase the number of face-to-face meetings.

In later research and in my book “Triumph of the City” (The Penguin Press, 2011), I emphasized a slightly different idea: electronic connections and face-to-face connections are complements because new technologies increase the returns to innovation.

Better electronic interactions make it easier to produce new ideas in low-cost areas (think New York fashion designers’ ideas that are manufactured in China) or to sell creativity worldwide (think the global success of “Avatar”), and that means bigger returns to innovation.

As long as interpersonal contact – the sharing of knowledge at close quarters – remains an important ingredient in innovation (as it seemed to be in Facebook), then better electronic connections can make face-to-face contact, and innovation-assisting cities, more important.

We also cited earlier research that found that people tended to call people who were physically close: in the 1970s, more than 40 percent of phone calls connected places less than two miles apart. More recent data from Japan confirmed that proximity and phoning seemed to complement each other.

It shouldn’t be surprising that people both call and meet with their friends, and that suggests a certain kind of complementarity.

Another piece of evidence suggesting that information technology and face-to-face contact are complements is the geographic concentration of the tech cluster. America’s cutting-edge computer scientists have access to the best electronic means of long-distance connection, yet they have come together to form the world’s most famous industrial cluster: Silicon Valley.

A similar cluster exists in Bangalore.

In my own industry as well, there is little evidence that long-distance learning is eliminating demand for the high-intensity in-person education that places like Princeton and Yale provide. Anyone who teaches knows that good lecturing is far more than proclaiming wisdom from on high.

The teacher constantly struggles to understand what is getting across, and that’s far easier at close quarters. The more complex the idea, the more you need to rely on the rich cues that humans have evolved for signaling confusion or comprehension.

Humanity is a profoundly social species, with a deep ability to learn from people nearby. I believe that the future will only make that asset more important.




There’s something happening here

Something happening here

Something is happening at my institution. I seem to be connecting with more of our faculty on Facebook and Twitter. Interest in blogging among faculty is growing, and every week I am hearing of another faculty person starting to blog or tweet.

What is both interesting and encouraging is the topic of conversation in these spaces. They are talking about teaching and learning. They are sharing links and resources. They are connecting with each other and talking about their craft. They are developing their PLN’s, and it is very cool to see happening.

One striking example of what I am seeing occurred recently where I took part in a conversation on Facebook with an instructor who posted the following status update:

How do I measure student engagement in my classroom? How would I evaluate them if I decide not to use exams anymore?

There was a great response from his colleagues and a rich discussion ensued. But then something interesting happened. It wasn’t just other faculty who were responding. There were staff, his friends, his Dean — and students. Students who he was FB friends with weighed in with their opinions on what kind of strategies they thought would engage them. His students were responding to his question, and posting their responses to what others were suggesting.  Talk about a rich formative evaluation, done completely informally and naturally, prompted by a simple question posted as a status update.

I am not sure what is going on. Perhaps we are reaching a tipping point where there are enough people now engaged with social networks that  where this type of interaction is possible. Perhaps it is because we have a new Dean in Arts and Science. He blogs. He tweets. He connects with his faculty in Facebook. And I think he is setting the tone for his School. Perhaps his presence in these social spaces, talking about both professional and personal things, is making it somehow more inviting for his faculty. I’m not sure. But whatever the reasons, it is great to see and be able to take part in these conversations without having to wait for a once a year conference, or a chance hallway encounter.



I usually don’t write highly personal stuff about my work, but felt I just had to say this. Yesterday I had a reminder of how wonderful the people I work with are.

Yesterday at 2pm I had my first interview for my thesis. I was planning on taking a late lunch and doing it over my lunch hour. Naturally, I have been nervous about this new phase in my thesis beginning. This was the guts of it – collecting the data. Do I have the right questions? Will Skype work? All those niggling little things that keep you up at night and make you wring your hands all day.

The office was quiet. I was the only person providing D2L support. Our 3 ID’s were working on the other campus, and our regular D2L admin was taking a holiday day. I was holding down the fort, providing support and admin functions for our LMS.

At 1:15, I was just about to begin setting up my computer in our meeting room for the 2pm Skype interview. I wanted to test everything out well ahead of time. I saw an instructor walk into our office area. He came over to me and reported that D2L was slow, and he had a group of students writing a test in the lab next door. I popped onto D2L to take a look and it was slow. And getting slower. Suddenly an email popped into the support inbox. Were we having problems with D2L because this person could not log on. Then another. And another. Students began coming into the office, reporting problems with D2l. The Learning Commons was full. D2L was going down. I was alone, and in 30 minutes I had to do my first interview for my research. Anyone reading this who has ever done research, especially research that involves long form interviews, knows how tough it can be to line up a participant. I did not want to reschedule. I began to feel a pit forming in my stomach.

A quick call to my team leader at the other campus confirmed they were having problems, too. She immediately got it. She knew what was coming up for me in 30 minutes, and what it meant for my own personal development – my first thesis interview. And how did she handle it? She told me to walk away.

She told me to go for a walk, clear my head and get into a good space for my interview. She talked me down from my rising panic, and told me that what I needed to do at that moment was focus on my research. Our entire LMS was falling apart (not a usual occurrence I have to say. Of all the criticisms one may have of D2l, reliability is not one we often face), I was the only person around, and she was telling me to put my research first. I felt like a tremendous weight had been lifted, and I literally got some kind of warm chemical rush up my back as I heard her voice at the other end of the phone telling me to go and prep for my interview.

So I did. I walked away. Went outside. came back 10 minutes later, went into the meeting room and set up my computer. I closed the door. It felt a bit like that NFB film The Big Snit, where thermonuclear war is a-raging just outside the door of the house. But I went ahead and shut it out and did my interview. And it went very well.

Later when I emerged I found out D2L had come back fully online around 2:20, and all was quiet. My team leader had triaged the emails in our support email box while I was busy. All was well. Some co-workers had come back into the office and were hanging Christmas decorations. Sanity had been restored. And I was reminded once again that, when it comes to work, I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by supportive, caring people. Years of working in commercial media has meant I have worked for a lot of horrible bosses in my time. I can’t begin to express how my team leaders actions yesterday made me feel, other than to say it spurred me to spend the morning writing this post, as a small way of thanking her for what she did yesterday.

Thanks, Susan.


On the episode of The Office where Dwight was in Second Life and his avatar looked EXACTLY like him

I changed my identity this week. Like some Cold War secret service agent, I was able to slip off my old face and replace it with a new one. On Twitter I went from:


I made the change because I am taking part in the prostate cancer fundraiser Movember, and thought that people who have donated to support me should see exactly what it was they got for their money.

Well, the change prompted one of the most enjoyable and interesting days I have had on Twitter. I was at work, laughing out loud in the office at the banter going back and forth, triggered by my sudden moustached resemblance to a circa 1977 Burt Reynolds.

But mixed in with all the frivolity was something else. First, people who I had never connected one on one on Twitter with were sending me messages, and engaging in conversation. It sparked this blog post (and another one from Helen Keegan as we are sharing our thoughts on this subject as a bit of a blog-off), and a deeper realization of just how important these little symbols of us are and what messages they send about us to others in our network.

Lately I have struggled with how to represent myself online. Little Clint has been my primary online avatar for years. It has become my calling card. It’s my gravatar when I post comments on blogs and leave my mark around the net. It’s how I have always identified myself on Twitter, and was my default Facebook avatar for years. The little guy has become my online stake in virtual ground; something of a marker for others in my network, which is part of the reason why I struggle with changing it. As Helen said in her tweet,

it’s difficult coz consistency (icon) easily tied to ID/reputation, yet in reality ID can be so fluid…

For all intents and purposes, Little Clint (in all his 8 year old retro hipster cuteness)  is me. When someone in my network comes across something on the web that I have already left my mark on, it is a signal to them that someone else from their network – someone they presumably trust – has been there.

Case in point, last week I visited the site for the first time. Had never been there, somehow stumbled across it from some link somewhere. What was the first thing I saw on the page? Well, because I was logged into Facebook, and because is integrated with Facebook Connect, I was greeted by the smiling avatars of two people from my FB network – two people in my circle of trust who I recognized immediately. Now, this doesn’t mean I see their images on this website as a personal endorsement, but it was certainly enough for me to determine that this site was something I might want to dig into a bit.

As more and more services become integrated with the Internet Holy Trinity (Twitter, Facebook and Google), a simple change in avatar on one social network service can have ripple effects far down the line.

Over time, we all change. Our physical appearance, the way we think about things, who we are is constantly in motion, sometimes from day to day. So why shouldn’t our avatars change to reflect who we are at that moment in time? Why shouldn’t we be able to use whatever symbol or photo or image to represent us? But when we are in an environment where trust and reputation are hard to establish, do we run the risk of weakening those signals of trust to our network by undertaking the simple act of changing our avatar?

I do love Lil Clint, but I don’t know if he really represents who I am. This is especially noticeable when I go to a conference where I am going to meet people in my network f2f for the first time.  I often think I should buy a bunch of t-shirts with that avatar plastered on it, and wear it on the first day of a conference just so people can attach that image to me.  Like the importance of using your own name on social networks, I am beginning to think it is time to retire Little Clint.

But I wonder what I might lose by suddenly abandoning him and replacing him with a more generic photo of myself. Little Clint is pretty distinctive. Big Clint is just another face in the crowd. It’s not those that I have strong ties with in my network that I think about. They’ll catch it. But will those who I have weak ties with even recognize that I am the same person? Will they connect the two? Will they even care?

Maybe I worry too much. After all, changing my avatar this week did result in some great new connections and a couple of gut-busting howls. But I wonder how many people in my various connected networks are now wondering who this new face is, and is it someone they can trust?

The title, in case you are wondering, comes from the American version of The Office and is in reference to this scene. Maybe Dwight was right?


Integrating Tech Tools: A Practical and Peer to Peer View

I had the great privilege of being invited to talk to the faculty of the Justice Institute in Victoria last week and speak with them about a few of the projects I have been working on with our faculty at Camosun this year. The talk focused on some practical ways faculty at Camosun have integrated technology in their class to solve specific problems or achieve specific pedagogically based outcomes, hence the “peer to peer” part of the title with me acting as the proxy for our faculty (although they did have a direct voice as I interviewed a couple of them about their projects).

The faculty and projects I picked used Skype, Twitter, YouTube and Posterous as the tools. Scope of the projects ranged from fairly small and discrete (using Skype to bring in a virtual guest speaker) to fairly ambitious (using YouTube as a platform for student created video projects, which involved 5 sections of Nursing students).

This was the first time I used Prezi as a presentation tool and enjoyed having a reason to use it. Before doing the presentation, I tweeted out asking for potential gotcha’s on using Prezi and got some good tips back, including to go easy on the zoom and pan as it can be nausea inducing on the big screen to have things continually spinning and flying from corner to corner, and to download a hard copy of the Prezi to my local machine along with any external resources I might have embedded in the Prezi, like YouTube videos. The one tip I can add to that from my own experience is to test the presentation on a projector beforehand as the projector will tend to lower the screen resolution and could change your layout when displayed on the big screen as a result. I noticed that spacing of my text was altered from the widescreen view I had on my laptop to the narrow projector view when plugged into the overhead projector.


BC Study on RateMyProfessors

Last week I attended a presentation on some research done by one of our instructors, Dr. Janet Reagan, on informal student course evaluations, specifically focusing on the website  RateMyProfessors . Those working within the BC college system may find the research particularly interesting as the data she used from RMP was pulled from 3 anonymous BC college’s, so it is very relevant for those of us working in this sector.

One of our College’s research analysts was in attendance – someone charged with doing our in house course survey, and remarked that there was a great deal of similarity and consistency with the informal information student’s posted on RMP and the results of Dr. Reagan’s study. I am not sure what the perception of sites like RMP is with our faculty, but I think it is easy to disregard the validity of the comments made on public spaces like this as places where students vent. Dr. Reagan’s research shows that these comments are valid and, surprising to some, equally weighted between positive and negative. Very useful and relevant phenomenological information can be found on sites like RMP and there is a great deal of congruency between what students perceive is effective teaching practice and what the research literature in this area suggests.

As part of the research, Dr. Regan has developed the ACCEPT Model of Student Discernment of Effective Teaching Characteristics which can be used as criteria to evaluate student perceptions of good teaching practice.

  • Articulate: Teachers provide consistent, clear and distinctly accurate instruction to facilitate and direct the teaching and learning process.
  • Competent: Teachers are qualified to instruct in adult education settings and exhibit skills expected of the teaching profession. They are organized and prepared for content delivery in an interactive style, and understand strategies to fairly and effectively assess learning.
  • Content-Experts: Teachers are current, informative, reality-based content experts with substantive experience in their topic areas that may include their academic research background, or their career background, or their trades or industry background.
  • Empowering: Teachers empower students in their learning to build self-confidence and assertiveness. Teachers challenge, motivate and encourage adult learners to think independently and critically.
  • Perceptive: Teachers display a high level of authenticity and credibility including insight, intuition, and humour. Perceptive teachers care about the success of their students and are approachable.
  • Trustworthy: Teachers are aware of their professional, ethical and moral obligations in relation to the trust relationship of teaching. Teachers are respectful in thought and reliable in action and have earned the students? confidence.

Dr. Reagan goes on to make 6 recommendations based on the results of the study.

  1. Explore the use of informal online student evaluation of effective teaching characteristics, to promote credible and authentic teaching practice, aligned with self-regulated learning strategies that are both beneficial and desirable to adult learners.
  2. Promote voluntary faculty development opportunities that demonstrates how humour and novelty may be used to enhance learning, as many anecdotal student comments relate to the positive effect on humour and novelty in the learning environment or, conversely, the negative effect when humour and novelty are absent.
  3. Address power relations in the classroom that interfere with learning, as voiced through informal student evaluation of teaching effectiveness, and intervene when the quality of teaching is unacceptable to students and the teaching professions.
  4. Build on the framework of the ACCPET model of Student Discernment of Effective Teaching Characteristics to develop informal adjunct to the institutional rating system. The interpretive analysis of this study revealed that students informal anecdotal comments align with empirical research on effective teaching characteristics and principles of adult learning.
  5. Build on the framework of the ACCPET model of Student Discernment of Effective Teaching Characteristics to promote and integrate effective teaching characteristics. Also, with faculty agreement, conduct regular classroom research and improve teaching practice with ongoing in-service training, student and peer feedback
  6. Improve the method of retrieving student evaluation of effective teaching characteristics by accessing informal and less traditional student communication, including data accessed from anonymous online faculty rating systems, while also acknowledging that students’ informal comments reflect credible commentary; even though possible abuses could limit validity in specific instances.

Dr. Reagan’s research was on RMP, but I suspect that similar results could be found monitoring any open social network and I believe this is a great opportunity for educators. Over the past year or so I have been monitoring keywords related to our institution on Twitter and it is always interesting when I see a student comment that I know is directly related to a class they are taking, or some kind of experience they are having with our institution. To me, the realtime web offers great potential for educators to provide immediate and timely feedback and intervention based on what our students are saying about the experiences they are having with our institution as they are having them. Many large companies are doing this kind of social media space monitoring with very positive results. Maybe it is time educators took a serious look at monitoring social networking sites as a regular part of their formative assessment strategy.

The full dissertation is available at DSpace at the University of Victoria.


2010 Horizon Report

I love it when The Horizon Report comes out. It takes me back to being a kid in Northern Alberta, anxiously awaiting the November arrival of the Sears Christmas Wish Book at our house. It offered me a glimpse of what could be in the near future. And it excited me.

If you are not familiar, each year the New Media Consortium and the Educause Learning Initiative publish The Horizon Report, a look into the future at some of the technologies that may have an impact on higher education in the next 5 years. This year the report has picked the following technologies and estimated a time for adoption for each.

  1. Mobile Computing (1 year or less)
  2. Open Content (1 year or less)
  3. Electronic Books (2-3 years)
  4. Simple Augmented Reality (2-3 years)
  5. Gesture Based Computing (4-5 years)
  6. Visual Data Analysis (4-5 years)

Scott Leslie from BCcampus is one of the advisors for the report. This year he travelled to Austin, Texas for the release of the report and created this video, which features interviews with members of ELI and NMC about the technologies in the report. It’s a nice piece of work from Scott that adds useful context around the reasons why these technologies were chosen.

Some things strike me about this list.

First, mobile computing has arrived at Camosun, at least if the connectivity stats coming from our IT Services department are any indication. Last week I was speaking with some members of the department who said that they have had to increase the number of available IP addresses for our wireless network twice this fall to meet the demand of wireless apps on campus. If you are not familiar with how networking works, each device that connects to the wireless network requires a unique address. These are pulled from a limited pool of addresses. Once that pool runs out, no more devices can connect to the network until a device returns an address to the pool. I don’t think that it’s a far stretch to imagine they will be significantly upping the pool again this fall. So, we know the students are connecting. How much of that connectivity is being used for learning & teaching is the unknown.

Second, of all the technologies on this list, simple augmented reality is the one that has me the most excited. I have been playing with augmented reality apps on my Android phone for the past 6 months and can see huge potential for education should they take off. Here is an example of augmented reality in which data pulled from the web is overlayed on top of what you see through your camera phone, kind of like a heads up display you might see in a car.

Imagine scanning the horizon with your smartphone and having geographical information pop up on the screen – the names of those mountains in the distance, the number of salmon that spawned in that creek last year, what developers hold development permits for that parcel of land over there. Very possible, and useful, information.

The barrier I see with this right now is that there is no standard for delivering the information. While many augmented reality browser are being created, the layers are not compatible with each other. Kind of like the early days of web browsers where websites would only work in either Internet Explorer or Netscape. Here’s hoping we learned from that mess & some open standards begin to emerge as the augmented reality market matures.

As for the other technologies, ebooks have to catch on at some point and you have to think sooner rather than later. 2010 has been dubbed by some as the year of the e-reader, with numerous options now on the market. The advantages of ebooks are numerous – cheaper, easier to update, they don’t use trees, you can increase the font size (a big one for me after spending a term frustrated trying to read 9 point type in a textbook), annotate, snip, republish yada yada yada. They have to catch on, don’t they?

After having lived with a Wii for the past year, I can also see the appeal of gesture based computing, especially in the areas of simulations. I can imagine a carpentry simulation someday swinging something akin to a Wii remote to simulate hammering a nail into wood, complete with tactile feedback where the remote vibrates as you strike the nail.

Of course, there are many qualifiers, maybes and outright unknowns whenever you try to predict technology and trends. But one thing seems certain – the innovation train is not stopping, and that makes for very interesting times to be working in educational technology.


Adventures in backing up WPMu

I’ve bee working on setting up some backup systems in our instance of WPMu and have been struggling a bit. While I certainly appreciate that creating backups for WPMu can be fairly straightforward to setup when using tools like phpMyAdmin and gzip (as outlined nicely in a recent post at WPMU Tutorials), there really isn’t a simple way for individual site owners to do site backups from the WordPress interface.

What I would like to be able to do is allow the user to simply create a site specific backup file of all the necessary files for their site. Everything wrapped in one nice little package, with the bow on top being the ability for the user to schedule and forget their backups. Once a day/week/month it would just run, grab everything they would need to restore their site (at least their posts/pages AND uploaded files) and all is good. But I am realizing this may be a tall order without setting it up behind the scenes.

Now, each WP site does have an Export option, which is simple and straightforward, but was never intended as a backup utility, but rather a utility to move posts from one WordPress install to another. As such, it is not a comprehensive backup and doesn’t include files, images or multimedia you might have uploaded to your site.

This is a problem I have found with most community developed backup plugins as well – they all concentrate on backing up the database tables and not those extra files that will no doubt be uploaded by users looking to use the platform as a CMS. In order to backup both the database (where the posts and pages are stored), and the associated files, you need at least two separate  plugins.

The two I have been working with are WordPress Backup and WordPress Database Backup. So far I haven’t been able to get these two to do exactly what I want, and using them both makes things a tad confusing for end users.

backupFor one, there are now 2 backup options in their site navigation, located in different sub-menus. Natural instinct for a user to ask why is there 2 backups, and anytime a question is asked there is confusion. So a bit of support is needed to explain the differences between the two to the users. Not a huge deal, but a barrier.

What is very handy is that both backup plugins let you automatically schedule backups to happen at regular intervals. These files are zipped up and can automatically be moved to archive folders on the server or, if you want, emailed directly to the users, which some users might find comforting. The downside is that there are 4 separate zipped files that go along with each site – a database files (generated by the WP Database backup) and 3 backup files generated by the second backup plugin, one with your uploaded files, themes and plugins. One packaged folder would be nicer.

But the major problem I have with using the WordPress Database plugin with WPMu is that the interface does not limit the database tables to backup to just the site requesting the backup. It exposes ALL the tables to the entire WP instance, meaning that any site owner could backup and download any other site users content. Not cool.

I do like and appreciate the work that has gone into these plugins. I use them on this blog and they work great. But in a multi-user environment, I can’t really say this is the silver backup bullet I was hoping they would be. So, I am still searching for a backup system that users can initiate that is simple and straightforward for the end user that will allow them to control their own backups.


Piloting WordPress Multi-user at Camosun

A few weeks ago, we launched a WordPress Multi-User pilot project at Camosun.  Here are a few thoughts early on in the process.

Why are we doing this?

For the past 7 (or so) years, FrontPage has been the web authoring tool we have supported for faculty at Camosun. At the end of 2006, Microsoft discontinued FrontPage. Since then we have been experimenting with other platforms to replace FrontPage for faculty who wish to have stand alone (ie: outside our LMS Desire2Learn) websites and haven’t really been happy with the tools we have found, finding them either costly, overly complicated, or limiting. Ever since our Office 2007 rollout last year, faculty who are still using FrontPage have been reporting problems, so IT Services was also anxious to have us find another solution for faculty websites. So the main purpose for piloting WordPress for us is to see if we can use it primarily as a CMS to replace FrontPage.

Armed with some good feedback from Brian Lamb at UBC, Grant Potter at UNBC, and  Audrey Williams at Pellissippi State (who have all been involved with the UBCUNBC and Pellissippi State WPMu installs), I put together a pilot document for our IT Services, who agreed to support the project. At the beginning of November, the pilot began.

The journey so far…

We’ve done a lot in a few weeks. Installation was quick and smooth. The network admin I have been working with (who has also installed Drupal, Joomla, LifeRay and a few other CMS type systems) remarked that the LDAP integration with Active Directory was the easiest he has ever done. He literally had us integrated with our authentication system in 20 minutes.

For my part, I recruited a half dozen faculty for a pilot group and did some initial training. They are now set up with their own websites – and I use that term website intentionally. I’ve avoided using the word blog when I refer to these sites. I’ve found that the term blog carries with it preconceived notions, both good and bad. So, in order to avoid the whole “I don’t want a blog, I want a website” circular logic wheel that I have witnessed when people talk about WP as a CMS, I have been using the term website when talking about our pilot sites. I really want our users to focus on WP as a tool to manage a website, not a blog and try to proactively nip that semantic bud. These are just websites.

The faculty will be playing with their sites between now and January. In January when the new term starts, they will be using them as their primary website and posting whatever content it is they want their students to have access to.

Some early technical stuff

In keeping with that “website, not blog” philosophy, we launched with a minimum number of themes, trying to pick pretty simple ones that handle pages and nested pages well.

As for plugins, again, I’ve started with a small set of plugins and will be adding and testing functionality during the pilot (which runs until the end of June, 2010). Specifically, the plugins we have installed to begin with are:

  • Akismet spam filter and Akismet credit inserter to automatically insert a “Spam prevention powered by Akismet”
  • pageMash page management plugin which allows you to drag-and-drop the pages into the order you like.
  • COinS Metadata Exposer makes your blog readable by Zotero and other COinS interpreters. As a student who is actively using citation management tools like Zotero on a daily basis, I truly appreciate when this metadata is exposed to accurately capture citations from a webite.
  • Unfiltered MU to allow users to embed content from other sites.
  • Smart YouTube plugin to make embedding YouTube videos even easier. Yes, even easier.
  • Active Directory Integration for, uh, Active Directory integration
  • New Blog Defaults lets you customize certain default settings for new blogs.
  • WordPress Backup and WordPress Database Backup. I’ll have more to say about backing up WPMu sites in a separate post. Suffice to say, it is not an easy thing to do using the standard WordPress interface.
  • PDF and PPT Viewer looks like an interesting plugin that I have only started to test out. It could be very useful, considering that most faculty still post a lot of  PDF and PPT files on their sites. In a nutshell this plugin leverages Google Docs Viewer to create an embeddable view of a PPT or PDF document – no additional software or plugin required.

I’ll be elaborating about these plugins, and on administering WPMu, but I’ll save that for future posts. In the meantime, we now have a WPMu install up and running at Camosun and ticking along just fine.


Walls Optional: Camosun's Annual Teaching and Learning Event

Walls Optional

I am very excited about Walls Optional, the annual in house professional development day we organizes for Camosun faculty, staff and administrators and the main reason for the excitement is our keynote speaker, Dr. Alec Couros, professor of educational technology and media in the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina.

Alec’s keynote is title A Tweet and a Poke: How Educators Harness the Power of Social Networks. And it promises to be a good one as the buzz around social networks in our society increases with every new Twitter and Facebook account created. Where education fits into the social network landscape is one of the focus areas of Alec’s keynote.

New this year is the expansion of the planning team to include the entire Educational Support and Development department. This means a wider variety of workshops, with a particular emphasis on the newest members of the ERD team, the Camosun library. Sybil Harrison and the library staff are preparing 2 excellent workshops; It’s Not Just About the Books which will take a look at the ways libraries are evolving in the digital world, and Copyright in the Remix World.

DE will also be offering our usual assortment of workshop goodies, including an Overview of Desire2Learn for new faculty who haven’t yet taken the plunge into the D2L world. Also on the D2L front, Camosun instructors Pasquale Fiore and Rosemary Mason will be doing a workshop on how D2L saves them time with course administration. Meghan Moore is offering a workshop on Blended Learning, and Jennifer Stein is teaming up with Dianne Binn from Aboriginal Education & Community Connections to talk about a new tool available to faculty to help with the Indiginization of course material. Rounding out the schedule will be session from Joan Yates in the School of Business on characteristics of the new student, based on research work she has recently completed as part of her Masters thesis.

Finally, I’ll be poping up with a session that, well, looks like a joyous mess. For now I’m calling it EdTech Bootcamp. The idea is that I am going to throw out a bunch of ideas and tools and let the participants decide where we will go. I am making the lab tech’s quite nervous because they keep asking me to tell them exactly what I need to have installed on the computers in the lab. I don’t know. Just give me Firefox and the ability for users to add some plugins and off we go. Yes, it will be messy, but then again, learning is messy. I suspect there will be some stuff on wiki’s and blogs, YouTube and podcasting. I’m using a wiki as a scratch pad if you want to watch an unstructured session (d)evolve.

We’ve capped registration at 125 and have limited it to Camosun faculty, staff and administrators. If you want to find out more or are from Camosun and want to register, you can visit the Walls Optional website.


The robots are coming! The robots are coming!

Robot Attack

The end is nigh, I tell you! Robot teachers are about to make their debut in Japan. We’re all doomed, DOOMED!

In what could be a harbinger of the future, elementary-school students in Tokyo are being taught by a robot.

Saya is the result of 15 years of research and is being tested as a teacher after working as a receptionist.

She — or it — is multilingual, can organize set tasks for pupils, call the roll and get angry when the kids misbehave.

Oh good. They’re ANGRY robots. Have we not learned anything from The Terminator? Don’t make them ANGRY!

Flickr Photo credit: Robot Attack! by Dan Coulter. Used under Creative Commons license.

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