Mountebank Blog

Vassar Talk Tech

Talk Tech I had a great time talking to the guys at the Vassar Talk Tech radio broadcast (WVKR 91.3) this week. Not only did I get to talk about eportfolios (always good), but was able to stay and discuss the iPad.

Thanks, guys!


WordCamp NYC Coming Up

Coming this Saturday, and it should be a great day. I’ll be on the roundtable on the future of WordPress in Education, and presenting my own eportfolio spiel:

Eportfolios are (too often) seen as tools for assessment, for assignments, or for career placement. But thanks to WordPress and BuddyPress, at Macaulay Honors College, we’ve been able to set up an entirely flexible and free tool, allowing students (and faculty, and instructional technology fellows) to redefine the term “Eportfolio” and to let them each create a “Cabinet of Curiosities” or a “Museum of Me,” which promotes reflection, interaction, and truly integrative learning. These eportfolios are student-driven and student-designed, and the flexibility of WordPress allows us to watch as students forge new paths, and create an eportfolio model which is new in higher education, and which has the potential to work for students beyond the classroom, beyond the college.

21 Years

Even still it’s a sharp pain–it doesn’t really lose the edge.

R.I.P. Scott Daniel Ugoretz.

February 24, 1964-October 28, 1988.

Apples and Oranges and Lectures and Learning

photo by Dano recently read (unfortunately, I can’t find the reference, or where I read it–it was in print, not online, believe it or not–so this will have to stand as anecdotal) about a study at a school using lecture capture technology. The study compared students’ use of recorded lectures (made available on the web) in two different classes (same academic subject, covering the same content). In one course, the professor lectured through the whole class period, with almost no opportunities for interaction (he took questions at the end) or any activity by students except for listening and note-taking. In the second course, the professor lectured for only brief periods, asking students to step forward and present at various points in the class or to repeat questions that they had sent to him in emails, and integrating discussions and questions throughout the class.

Both classes were recorded–audio and video–and made available to students afterwards. In both cases, standard, simple, lecture capture (a fixed camera, a microphone on the professor and an omni-directional microphone in the room) tools were used.

When the recordings were made available, it turned out that students accessed and viewed the second class–the one that included interaction and active participation from students–even though much of that interaction was not well-captured in the videos. They reported in interviews that they found the class itself to be interesting and engaging, and wanted to review what the professor had said–they felt (does this seem paradoxical?) that they were so interested in class that they might have missed something.

The first class, the captured straight lecture, was not one that students accessed or viewed at all. A few students viewed the page, but interviews afterwards showed that they did not bother to watch more than the first few minutes of the recording. It wasn’t something that they felt was useful either in reviewing for studying, or for understanding the material.

And beyond that, students reported that, because the full lecture was available online, they didn’t feel they needed to bother to attend class–and attendance did, in fact, dip significantly after the first few sessions. So not only were they not using the captured lectures, they were less likely to even attend the actual, in-person lectures. That didn’t happen in the more interactive class–students there continued to attend–felt that they would miss something important if they didn’t, even though the recordings were available.

I’ve been thinking about this, because it reinforces something I’ve always noticed myself, but also because there are some surprises there. I’ve always had big reservations about lecture capture (which unfortunately, too often, is the only model used when thinking about podcasting in higher ed, and even more unfortunately, when thinking about what administrators call “distance learning”). It seems to me that a good lecture (and they do exist, and they are a good thing) is very much a live performance–and it depends to a large extent on that context of live performance for its effectiveness. A recording can have some value–but it’s not a transparent representation. It’s a re-presentation. So it’s taking the performance out of its native medium, plopping it into another, different medium. It loses all the advantages of the original (live, face-to-face) medium, and it gains none of the advantages of the new (online, asynchronous) medium. (The term “lecture capture” is a significant one. It captures the lecture–nails it down, cages it)

This is why, to me, an “online class” (or “distance learning”) is at its least effective, its least interesting, when it’s a series of recorded lectures–unless (which is very rare) those lectures are specifically and intentionally produced for the new medium–then they’re mini-films. An online class should be designed for the online medium–to take advantage of the affordances (hyper-links, multimedia, asynchronicity, threaded discussion, etc., etc) of that medium.

But that study made me think more of an “apples and oranges” question. While confirming my own experience that straight capturing of a straight lecture is pretty much a waste of time and technology (and may even decrease student learning–that was a bit of a surprise to me), that study also indicates that a “lecture” is not always exactly a lecture. When I think of comparing two classes, or two captures, I want to remember to also think of comparing apples to apples.

People often talk about how online classes are necessarily inferior to face-to-face classes, but they say this with built-in assumptions. They compare a terrible online class with an excellent face-to-face class. Similarly, I think that study indicated that it’s not just the fact of the recording that is important–it’s what has been recorded. A good class is still valuable as a recording (contrary to my own automatic assumption). It’s the quality of the class, not the recording, that makes students want to return to it, to think about it, to come back for more.

Faculty development (even with all its varieties and all its difficulties) should always focus on the goal of making classes better–which is always a matter of making students more active, more engaged. Then everything will be apples. And it’s good to remember that sometimes the fact that a class is interesting, is engaging, actually means that students don’t get all they can out of the class–they want to, and need to, return to it again. So in those cases, the recording just might be a useful thing for them.

September 11

This, lightly edited, is the email I sent to my family in other places on September 12, 2001.

I was in the subway when the first blast happened, and some people got on my train and started talking about a plane crash and brushing broken glass from their clothes and hair. I pretty much ignored them. Then I got out of the train at City Hall and started walking across town. I heard a lot of sirens and a helicopter and at the next intersection I looked up and saw the flaming hole in the first WTC building. I looked back down and started walking quick to work at BMCC to call Beth to tell her to stay home (cell phones were not working, pay phones had long lines, people were running up the street crying).

Then I heard an echoing explosion, like a series of 3 or 5 loud rippling bangs, and I looked up and saw the huge cloud of smoke and flame (and large pieces of debris–people next to me said they saw people falling in the air, but I don’t think I saw that–not clearly) coming out of the second building.

I ran to work and called Beth–I wanted to tell her to stay home, because the subways would be a mess. At that point I thought it was just something like a gas fire. Somebody told me that a plane had crashed into the WTC, but I didn’t really believe it.

Then they started evacuating the college.

I walked out the North Entrance (about eight blocks north of the WTC) and saw two of my students, one crying and both pretty freaked out. I started walking with them, telling them I would help them get to Brooklyn, and that we should get out of the area, but we would be OK.

We made our way East and South and when we got to Broadway, turned South to go to the Brooklyn Bridge. Then we heard a loud noise like a subway train or a jet plane was going right down the street. Everyone stopped and looked around.

Then people were running north, towards us, from the south (the WTC, about 6 blocks south and 3 blocks west) I saw some running police and firefighters, running away from the WTC, then more and more people, a big crowd. I lost track of my students. I looked south where the people were running from and saw a huge cloud of smoke and debris (many stories tall, taller than the surrounding buildings) billowing and rushing up Broadway behind the mob of running people. I turned and started running. I saw a pair of high-heeled shoes that a woman must have just abandoned to run faster. Then a lady next to me fell down and people started trampling her. I got behind her and picked her up and she ran away. I thought I might fall or get hit by broken glass so I hid in a doorway and covered my face. Then the leading edge of the cloud was past and the air was dusty but there weren’t people running anymore.

I looked south and I couldn’t see where the Brooklyn Bridge was. Just the cloud of dust. So I turned north. I wanted to get out of Manhattan.

I walked towards Canal Street. People in the crowd were saying that nobody was being let out of Manhattan, that all the bridges were closed by trucks and troops. I thought “I don’t care. They can’t keep me here. I am going home.” I got on the Manhattan Bridge. As I was walking across I looked back and saw only one tower of the WTC standing. Then I heard that subway sound again and I looked again and saw the second building coming down. People in the crowd were saying that more planes were coming, and that they were going to attack the bridges next. I kept looking over the edge of the bridge to check the distance to the ground in case I had to jump.

I walked all the way to Brooklyn, and kept trying to call Beth on my cell phone until the battery died. When I found a pay phone with not a long line, I tried that, but the call wouldn’t go through.

So I just walked the rest of the way home. I was covered with the dust and ashes, and when I walked in I had to keep telling Beth that I was OK. Then Beth went to get Julie at school. I am just so happy we are all OK. (alternating with incredible anger at the bastards who did this, and those who are celebrating our grief and fear)

I talked to a lot of people, and I saw a lot of New Yorkers comforting each other, even strangers. At one point I was having some trouble breathing (mostly anxiety, some asthma) and a guy came over and helped me. Then I was OK, and I said thanks, and he walked away.

I feel so bad for the many people who lost loved ones.

Just thought I’d write it all down.

Macaulay Eportfolios Plugin List

One of our Instructional Technology Fellows asked for this list, so instead of just letting it sit in my sent email box, I thought I’d put it out for others to see.
These are plugins we’re using on our Macaulay Eportfolios WPMU install. It’s a snapshot, really, with some that I haven’t been able […]

What is it that these tools do do?

I’m late posting this–it started as some thoughts growing out of our CUNY WordCampEd, which is now (how time flies!) weeks past.  Others, notably two of my co-organizers, Luke Waltzer and Mikhail Gershovich, have already posted some terrific thoughts on the event and its implications.  My other co-organizer, Matt Gold, has been great about keeping […]

New Kindle Textbook Pilot

Arizona State University, Princeton University, Case Western Reserve University, Reed College, and Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia are partnering with Amazon in a pilot program to give the new Kindle DX to selected classes of students instead of paper textbooks.
I’m not sure if the DX has improved note-taking and highlighting functions–that […]

Macaulay Social Network Moving Along

socialWith the recent announcement (finally!) of the release of BuddyPress 1.0, I took the opportunity to upgrade the Macaulay Social Network site, and give it a light touch of redesign. (Also partly inspired by the great work with BuddyPress right here at the Academic Commons, I must admit!). We had a very successful period of piloting with the beta version(s), and even though it wasn’t supposed to be used in production environments, it seemed to serve very well. There were a few small but annoying bugs, and it’s really looking like the upgrade has now fixed all of those. I’ve got the summer now for more testing and tweaking, and I’m expecting to see very heavy usage from students this fall. There are features (the directory, the searchable profiles, the messaging, the groups) which our students have really been requesting, and it will be great to see how they help us continue to connect the Macaulay Community!

A Webby Award for Open Education

The annual Webby Awards (what the NY Times calls “the internet’s highest honor”) were announced today, and in the education category, the very-deserving winner was the excellent site (full disclosure–the site is the work of my wife and her colleague, and I’ve had some marginal technical involvement in it myself from the beginning).  Smarthistory […]