Dismantling the information silos: #integrate

16 01 2016

This past week our family reached a couple of milestones. Son 1 was awarded his certification and is on the road to professional employment.  Son 2 was promoted into the first rung of management. They are setting out toward successfully adulting. As they spread their wings to fly, momma bird is proud – and a bit relieved.  Twenty four of my forty eight years have been spent momma birding.  But then, momma birding never really stops – it just changes form. Just ask my own momma bird, her phone chirping away, signaling questions and updates – her nest of baby birds in her pocket.

Still, even before I had little family birds, I had students.  This month I’ve finished my 25th year of teaching college, and have started what I hope will be at least another 25 years.  As I look at my teaching methods and priorities now, I see how much has changed over the years.  When I first started, it was definitely a “sage on the stage” and “facts from the books” environment.  There was no convenient internet access.  No email.  No text messaging.

Ten years after I started teaching college, I was trained to be a medical school facilitator for the problem based learning curriculum.  “Sage on the stage” became a sort of academic insult – “guide on the side” became the in phrase.  I started developing my own case studies and implemented discussion groups in my community college courses as well.

Now, with mobile “always on” having reached saturation among students, I’ve transitioned almost fully away from my “sage on the stage” beginnings.  I also find myself moving further away from a reliance on books each year.  Students still need the guide on the side – they need someone to help them take a machete to the information overgrowth so they can find the path.  My teaching now is less about focusing on the facts – those can be harvested from books and other sources.  The purpose of teaching as I see it now, is the human connection – the lighting of the fire, the bringing the lens into focus.  To do that fully, I need to deconstruct the knowledge silos.  Moving forward, that is my focus, the “grand design of it all” – the linking of ideas in videos and animations.  The development of content that students want to learn.  The giving as much or as little as a student needs to reach mastery of the information.  To help build new nurses and trainers.  Not to obsess over points or quizzes or test banks – the “factory model”.  It’s time to move beyond that – to integrate the content. For, life is integrated – it is universal – to say “now we learn about the hormones of the stomach, don’t worry about the bacteria within it” and then to switch classes and say  “now we learn about the bacteria of the stomach, don’t worry about the hormones” seems silly somehow.  It’s all connected – life doesn’t separate one from the other.

My word of the year for 2016 is “Integrate”.  My goal is to extract the big concepts and 2016 integratebuild a core framework for all of my courses that shows the connection points and branches of the material.  It’s going to be a huge project, one that will take many years.  It will include a variety of tools – from OERs to commercial materials.  But, when it is finished, I envision a map – like a garden pathway – with points of interest and places to stop and explore awhile.  There will be starting gates, and some bridges to be crossed.  There will even be some challenging climbs for those up to it.  But, above all, it will be a place students feel safe to explore and learn.  Somewhere they will leave, having learned, but where they can always come back to learn more.

Through the past 25 years, I have never labeled myself with separate “teacher”, “mom”, “researcher” labels – I’ve always just seen myself as “me”.   It’s time to see students the same way.  They are not a series of blank notebooks to be filled with static writing, they are unique individuals, traveling the path in their own way and time.  If I could eliminate the semester structure, I’d do it in a heartbeat.  But, as long as I’m working within the confines of 15 week due-date laden Carnegie credit hours, at least I can make the journey more useful and interesting  – I can move it out of the pages, and into the world.





In Opposition of Predatory Publisher Pricing Policies in Academics #GoOpen #OER

7 11 2015

When I was in grad school, our department chair gave us a mission.  Every time we walked into the medical library, we were to remove from the shelves an issue of a particular journal (I don’t recall which one now) and lay it on a table.  According to him, the library tracked how many journals were used in order to determine which subscriptions were renewed.  The yearly subscription for this particular journal was tens of thousands of dollars per year.

This week, editors of the Elsevier journal Lingua staged a protest – resigning from the publication due to Elsevier’s refusal to allow it to become open access.  In support of the editors, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities had this to say:

“Publishers sell back to the universities the very content they as a group produced, and at steadily higher subscription prices,” the statement said. “The system is fundamentally broken.”

I fully agree.  My graduate degree involved university and grant funded research in physiology.  The research was not published (the initial results were negative and the “great flood of 1997” wiped out the -70 freezer with a year worth of samples and also allowed me extended time off to see what I was missing in my little children’s lives – so I wrote up the initial data, cut my losses, and snatched the chance to take the MS and walk away, closing the door on my PhD).  But, if I had plugged on with the PhD and published, my mentor and department chair’s names in the byline could  have landed us in a decent journal.  A journal where libraries would have to pay a chunk of change to make the work available.

My graduate work was completed at a public, state university.  The research in our lab was funded by grants from the March of Dimes and the American Heart Association.  There were no private, commercial, for-profit funds used in my research – or, in fact, for any research in my department.  So, what is the justification for a library to have to pay exorbitant fees to buy access to read the results of this type of research?  If the university or grant fund is providing the lab space for the research, paying publication fees, and also paying for the finished journals where the research is published – aren’t they triple paying?  By extension, aren’t the taxpayers who support the university the ones triple paying as well?  How is this allowed to continue at such outrageous rates?  According to journal owners, there are costs (not to mention substantial profits – higher, even, than Apple). In actuality, it all comes down to “prestige” – paying for the credentials necessary for tenure in high-stakes “publish or perish” environments.

Libraries can’t afford this anymore.  For example, a browse through the “cancelled journalDSCF0826s” list for the University of Illinois library, where I worked for three years as an undergrad, shows a 2007 cancellation for the International Journal of Clothing Science and Technology – a savings of $9,629 a year.  The 2006 cancellation of Lecture Notes in Computer Science saved them $25,000 a year. In 2005, the subscription to the American Institute of Physics Conference Proceedings saved them $21,000 per year.  Together, those three journals could cover the cost of a junior faculty member yearly salary.  What would benefit a student more, access to those three journals – or a smaller English comp class?  At the University of North Dakota (my graduate institution) the university is facing choices between administrative positions and journal subscriptions.  They cannot afford both.

The standard bearers of scientific research are the journals Science and Nature.  I, personally, subscribe to Science.  It’s around $100 a year on the multi-year digital-only plan.  That seems like a reasonable cost to me.  I’ll support that.  Libraries also support Science – you’d be hard-pressed to find a university library that doesn’t stock it on campus.  Maybe the quantity of subscriptions allows a lower cost?  Or maybe the lower cost allows more exposure?  It’s difficult to say for sure, since it takes quite a bit of investigative digging to find the true cost of any particular library journal.  Libraries often negotiate bundled prices which vary from school to school.

Fortunately, the tides are turning.  Last week, the US Department of Education announced a new initiative – #GoOpen.  This proposed policy would require that all research funded by the department be available as an OER (open educational resource).  The policy is supported by the Creative Commons open licensing group.  Although #GoOpen is a P-12 initiative, legislation was also introduced last month to promote OER textbook use in college courses.  Hopefully, the movement will trickle into academic publishing at all levels.

While I support the rights of authors to copyright, and profit from, their original work, I oppose the practice of charging academic authors to publish in journals only to then turn around and CHARGE THEM AGAIN to have their work available in their own school library.  The only party to profit in such a scheme is the publisher.

Last year I wrote an OER Biology textbook, freely available to anyone from my faculty web page.  By the end of 2016, I plan to have four of the six courses I teach using primarily OER resources.  As I’ve stated before, I have no issues with authors profiting from their original work.  I also have no problem with publishers paying their editors and support staff a reasonable wage.  I do however, have an issue with predatory pricing, and I support OER initiatives by making my own work freely available.  US commercial academic publishers have come to see both students and “publish or perish” faculty members as fish in a barrel.  I cannot, in good conscience, support that.





Fifteen apps for productive online teaching and learning #onlineed #OER

17 10 2015

Photo Oct 09, 7 26 05 PMLast week, I wrote in support of mobile devices in the classroom.  This week, I’ll explore some apps I use in my own teaching and learning process.  As I redesign my curriculum to emphasize depth of knowledge and decrease reliance on commercial textbooks, I rely heavily on apps that sync across all popular platforms.  Throughout the day, I move continuously between my PC, phone, iPad, and Mac so any app I use must either sync reliably across those devices or must offer cloud access.

Productivity and Organization:

  1. OneNote: My blog posts are composed in OneNote. The unit outlines for my writing projects, including my OER textbooks, are in OneNote. My grading rubrics and keys are in OneNote.  My semester grading checklist, curriculum revision lists, and committee meeting notes are all there.  My academic department started using it this year as a collaboration space.  I was a late comer to the OneNote party – I’ve been using it less than a year – but within a few days of starting it took over as my primary ongoing work tool.
  1. Wunderlist: To-do apps are my weakness – I have no idea how many I have tried – dozens for sure. When I got my first iPod touch back in the day, I tried app after app – eventually landing on Wunderlist.  Whereas I use OneNote for ongoing and long-form projects, Wunderlist is my daily task app.  With repeatable tasks, Wunderlist is what I use to remind me that my textbook order is due each October and that I need to email my students next Thursday to encourage them to start their project.  My grocery list, travel packing list, and Kindle pre-order release date favorite author list are all in Wunderlist.  The benefit to Wunderlist over OneNote is timeliness.  Wunderlist pops the task out to me, OneNote makes me remember to go to the task.  In theory, you can set due dates and reminders for OneNote, but my version doesn’t have the “Task” tab in the menu bar and I haven’t been able to figure out how to add it.
  1. Dropbox: When I was in grad school, in the 90’s, I saved my research data Excel files to floppy disks and snail mailed a backup to my mom.  I also gave a backup to a neighbor.  Later, when I needed to move files between my home and work computers, I used thumb drives.  Now, I use Dropbox – files, pictures, screen shots all go to Dropbox.  My camera roll uploads automatically from my phone to Dropbox. It’s is accessible from all of my devices – including my phone – so sending a file or example photo to a student is easy, even away from my desk.
  1. Sunrise Calendar: Like to-do lists, I’ve lost track of how many calendar apps I have tried. Sunrise is the first one I have found that fully and reliably integrates my work calendar, personal calendars, and Wunderlist tasks in one place.  Sunrise is available as a Chrome extension and as a mobile app.
  1. Pocket: I have a love/hate relationship with bookmark apps/sites. I use Pocket as my “read later” repository.  Unfortunately, it seems I rarely have time to actually “read later” so it’s become a sort of link graveyard.  But, I still send links to it regularly, most frequently from Twitter.  Pocket allows tagging and sorting, but I don’t use it to store active resources.  Items I have actually read and want to save for later are stored in Diigo.  Links I use daily are stored on my start.me homepage.
  1. Relax: My kids are in their 20’s and are at that in-between almost-launched stage. Since I work from home, a good pair of headphones and a relaxing noise reduction program is essential to my ability to focus productively.  On my phone and iPad I use the Relax app.  On my PC, I use YouTube playlists of either focus music or nature sounds.

Content Creation: 

  1. Paper by 53: I write OER textbooks and develop OER activities. Engaging content requires illustrations.  Although open photo resources are available through Creative Commons licensing, I’ve found that I enjoy drawing my own diagrams and cartoon pictures.  I am no great artist, but I’ve been scratching out teaching images since back in the days of chalk on the green board.  One of my fondest memories is of my first whiteboard and the amazing four colors of Expo markers with which I could suddenly draw.  As a science teacher, diagrams and images have always been the bulk of my lectures. The Paper app provides an easy way to include my sketches in my OER content.  Creating the illustrations saves me the time consuming step of explaining what I want to an illustrator, paying said illustrator, and/or spending hours searching through open source images for what I need.
  1. MindMeister: When I outline content, I use OneNote. When I move the outline to text, I use Scrivener.  But, before I get to the outline or writing stage I first need to brainstorm idea links and relationships.  I’ve found that brainstorming is most effective when I use a free-flowing mind map.  MindMeister is a bare bones mind mapping tool that is accessible from both a browser and an app.  Accessibility is key for mind mapping because I often let content simmer and play with organization and content relationships for days, or weeks, (or months) before I head to the outline stage of development.
  1. Vittle: I just discovered Vittle and haven’t used it for any large projects yet – but I intend to. I played around a bit with the free version and then almost immediately purchased the full version.  Vittle is an iPad screen casting app that does, for less than $10, what I used to use Camtasia to do.  Vittle has a whiteboard pad that records audio and video explanations.  As I move my content from long 20-minute ten-year-old videos into short 1-2 minute focused segments, Vittle will be my go-to whiteboard “lecture tidbit” app.
  1. WordPress: I started my blog over five years ago, but it lay dormant for most of that time. Recently, I’ve begun to write about my teaching process and the tools I use for that process.  I also have used my blog to write out longer-form answers for questions I’m frequently asked by students.  Having a blog post, with step by step pictures available allows me to point students to help without needing to repeatedly explain the same thing in multiple emails.
  1. YouTube: I’ve been teaching online for over 15 years. In the early days, it wasn’t possible to share video content because most students (and teachers) were on dial-up internet modems. In 2007 I started sharing my first video lecture content – as Camtasia uploads into my LMS shells.  By 2012, any new video content I created was going into YouTube instead of into the LMS.  Students can access YouTube independently of the LMS, giving them more mobility and freedom to learn in a time and place that is most convenient for them.  My end of term evaluations always  have requests for more videos and YouTube is where most of those videos land.  Moving forward, I’m using Articulate Storyline and Office Mix to integrate short videos with other content (particularly with self-assessment quizzing) but YouTube will continue to be my go-to for longer form materials.

Inspiration and Information:

  1. Feedly: I’ve always been an RSS fan and the discontinuation of Google Reader years ago left me in a bind. I tried a couple of different replacement readers and Feely is the one that stuck.  I’m not a fan of content aggregators like Flipboard – I always feel like I’m missing something when I allow a service to curate content for me.  I prefer to curate my own sources and a RSS reader allows that.  However, I have recently become a fan of the Skimm and NextDraft newsletters so my Feedly reading had dropped off a bit as a result.
  1. Tweetbot: I created my Twitter account over five years ago, and then promptly ignored it. Recently, at a conference, I learned about Twitter backchannels and I discovered a world of content and interaction that brought together like minds from around the world in collaboration.  I’ve had to back off of Twitter a bit recently because it was sucking me in for hours at a time, but I still find ideas and inspiration every time I check it.  For me, the key to using Twitter is to actively curate my lists.  If someone I follow tweets repeatedly off topic, or their main posts are those status things about how many followers they added that week – they’re gone.  I curate my lists heavily in favor of those who share relevant, timely, content.

Reference:

  1. America’s Navy Anatomy Study Guide: My focus is OER content and this Anatomy guide is the best free mobile app version I’ve found. It has multiple modes, including a quizzing mode, that allows students to drill the bones and muscles any time they have a few minutes to spare.  The key to retention is repetition and ongoing drill is beneficial.
  1. PubMed: Writing OER content requires constant fact-checking. PubMed is the go-to for up to date basic medical science research.  While most articles referenced are behind pay walls (grr…), the abstracts are generally sufficient for a quick fact check.  For deeper research, I’ll then go through Google Scholar to see if the relevant article .pdf has been posted online anywhere.

As an online teacher, I spend hours each day using technology as an interface to interact with my students as they learn.  Since online learning is most frequently asynchronous, I am always excited about tools that improve the learning experience for students when I’m not immediately available for contact.  I’m also always on the look out for OER resources and the tools to help me create them. It’s a happy day when I find an online tool that helps me and my students travel our education journey more effectively together.








%d bloggers like this: