Disrupt, Innovate, and Percolate…

I love any article that wants to bring up disruption to recreate, and bring back innovation. I’m a fan of Fernando Pessoa whose book on Disquiet has motivated much of my creative and intellectual work. Disquiet and disrupt are similar in philosophy. To do things without worrying about how neat it is offers a lot of freedom to create.

I have to do a little more research on LMS, but I imagine they are something along the lines of Blackboard, or Angel that is used in schools? I find these tools utterly useless and try to stay away from them in my courses. I have had a rather reckless, let’s use what is for free on the internet, attitude but since sitting and reading in this seminar, I wonder how that information is being used. Although, I believe my students to be much smarter about how they present, use and post information on such systems. I’ve said this in the meeting but I’ve loved using Prezi, Youtube,VoiceThread, and even instagram as ways to get them to think about the material we are researching, analyzing and presenting in class.

This article was so clear and broke down the history of this system in a way that helped me see what has been happening in education. To be honest, I’ve always gone on my own route and as an independent publisher and cultural curator, I’ve used the mediums that are in the real world, so to speak. In this way, we have connected to authors through twitter or tumblr and shared what we have been as a class saying about their works. This was tremendous fun and the reason why we should be doing digital online work that is not private, and controlled. Of course, this choice is in the hands of the student.

Potentiality: “This is the idea that within the use of every technical tool there is more than just the consciousness of that tool, there is also the possibility to spark something beyond those predefined uses.” This was perhaps the most powerful section of this article — finding the potential is key to learning in an open web learning atmosphere. I have so much more to think about in this field.

This article was a great way to break it all down without getting overwhelmed by the tech talk. But thinking of technology as educators. I’m curious about this freedom to innovate and how much mistakes are allowed to be made, particularly in an educational setting. I am all for working outside of LMS but I cannot help but think for copyright reasons that these settings are useful for collecting a knowledge database that students can benefit from. I am thinking here of the quotes collecting work I do with my students on blackboard and how useful it is for them while writing larger essays. But not sure if we are allowed to quote so much from a text, or even have poems to annotate as we have been doing. I suppose that can be replicated in a private blog setting and still find a way to avoid Blackboard.

I feel like my response is just thinking out loud. I am reading analysis of this work I’ve been doing for years for the first time and to be honest, I feel like I keep thinking “Wow” after each line. I appreciate the guidelines and breakdown of how technology and critical thinking works in a classroom. I am reluctant to give up class time. I feel like there is so much we accomplish in discussions and presentations but the Randy Bass essay is very helpful in thinking about how much time can be used even more efficiently or creatively through online time, collaborative or alone research work.






Collaborating to take charge of technology to enhance teaching and learning

Groom and Lamb end with a starting point, that “the battle for the future of the web…will require an ”inconvenient commitment to … openness, ownership and participation…hard work, creativity and a spirit of fun. Bass continues to address ways teachers can begin to do that, to take charge of the technology rather than it controlling us. Most compelling was Bass’s discussion that the affect of technology on teaching and learning is ecological. If there are myriad locations and times that learning takes place, it follows that we must address how and when should we use technology to enhance learning and teaching. As a speech teacher, I’m absorbed by these questions as well as how to collaborate with the tech experts to help me fulfill my dreams of student engagement, with the text, the project, the research and preparation and practice, and with one another and me to fulfill their success in delivering their message home. The problem is after the syllabus is written and presented, after I get to know each student over time, I often have a flash of an idea for a little twist of technology that I’ve thought of at that moment to help them right there, right then. Teachers and techs and students are constrained by so many structures and money. I am happy for this opportunity to collaborate on all the possibilities

Innovate, Invest

I appreciated Randy Bass’s focus in “Engines of Inquiry: Teaching, Technology, and Learner-Centered Approaches to Culture and History” first on thinking through what we want to achieve in the classroom, and only then looking at the techniques and online/digital tools that can potentially achieve those goals. It seems important in the process of hybridization that learning goals not get overlooked, but rather that technology facilitates students understanding, grappling with, and meeting these objectives.

In COM 1010, the course I teach, I see challenges in distributive learning and reflective, critical thinking. It’s very easy to tell students in a top-down manner what makes a good persuasive speech, for example, and have them practice those techniques. It is harder to help them engage meaningfully with the methods of critiquing a presentation and to articulate for themselves (and the class) what makes an effective argument. Likewise, substantive reflection on their own work and on the messages they encounter from real-life speakers can often get lost in students’ overwhelming desire to perform well, to “not be nervous” and be entertaining. I think that hybrid technologies could potentially intervene in these areas, as well as providing a dialogic space for peer discussion that could help students prepare for larger discussion and “performance” in the classroom space.

Groom and Lamb’s essay, which was innovative in its format, brought up passionate questions for me at the institutional level. The “Costs” section of their article hit home forcefully. As they write: “The myriad costs associated with supporting LMSs crowd out budget and staff time that might be directed toward homegrown, open-source, and user-driven innovation.” Adjunct instructors who care deeply about the quality of the learning experience that they provide for their students are also deeply aware of the economic cost to themselves of supporting innovation in their classrooms. How many have the time, energy, and support, to achieve the kind of “grassroots, generative” innovation they aspire to? Learning management systems are clunky, nonintuitive, and, as Groom and Lamb point out, only provide students the skills in navigating that particular system which has no real-world equivalent. However, LMSs are also often the most supported, the most familiar to students, and they allow overworked adjuncts (now the majority of the instructional staff at many [most?] universities) to quickly set up course materials online, effectively “coping”– to borrow a concept from Bass’s article– with the demands of their role in the academic system. Clearly, systemic change in how we support student innovation online is linked to change in how we support instructors, particularly adjuncts, for the work they do.

The Varieties of Reading Experience: Some Observations and a Nod to Backward Design

I admit that I have significant hesitations about hybrid and fully online learning that range from an almost religious belief in the value of face-to-face learning environments to a perhaps (but perhaps not) paranoid fear of the corporatization of the university and its interests in taking advantage of hybrid or fully online learning possibilities. But I am also really excited by the idea of taking control of the situation and thinking about hybrid learning from the perspective of teaching and learning, rather than letting LMS vendors and corporate-styled boards make those decisions.

With that said, I’d like to use this space to meditate a little on the statement Groom and Lamb made that “it is facile to think that the technology makes no difference.”

The two articles we read yesterday were in different formats — one a PDF and one a webpage. I read them in chronological order, so Bass’s 1997 article came first. Since it was a PDF, I was able to bring to it some of my normal scholarly practices: I saved it in a file I have for scholarly articles I read as PDFs (which is further separated by topic), and as I read I highlighted and annotated it with comments and questions. I turned to Groom and Lamb next and found that this reading was a piece that made really dynamic use of its web space. It was hyperlinked, it included video, it had a funky table of contents that signaled one’s reading progress, it embedded tweets, and it contained readers’ comments at the bottom. While the process of reading that piece was in a way much more dynamic than my experience reading the PDF, I was struck by one major drawback: I couldn’t highlight and annotate the text itself unless I altered it significantly from its intended spacial, technological setting. So, the old-school, rather static PDF allowed me to interact with it by inputting my own thoughts (via highlights and annotations) whereas the nuanced and dynamic article published in an online review promoted certain kinds of interaction (clicking links, watching videos, submitting comments) but didn’t allow a certain other, for my teaching and learning purposes, extremely important kind of interaction.

This is not to say that one reading experience was better than another, it’s just to agree with Groom and Lamb that the technology we use matters. What did it do to my reading practice of Groom and Lamb that I decided to take some notes in a TextEdit file while reading since I couldn’t take notes in the margins of the text itself? Where can I store that file and how will I connect it with the webpage in my archive of research and writing? At what point do marginal notes turn into comments we make on the webpage itself that become part of the public record?

These questions, essentially just a little meditation on this particular reading experience, cover a very small amount of ground but I hope they represent the kind of questioning we should be doing anyway whenever we plan any kind of teaching or learning effort: what are the goals and what are the best methods of achieving those goals? In other words, as Bass and Groom and Lamb suggest, we should be thinking about backward design.

Innovation at the Core of the Humanities

It was very interesting to read these two articles together, and think about the potential for Instructional Technology in the late 90s, and where we are now with technology and education. I think that in many ways Bass’s article is an early vision of the more open, creative, and egalitarian web-based educative model that Groom and Lamb argue for now. Of course Bass doesn’t know yet where web-based learning will eventually lead (MOOCs, etc), but for that reason it is all the more interesting as a model for thinking about where we are headed in technology-based learning. It seems that Lamb and Groom are locating an issue inherent in the larger problem of the corporatization of the university: Rather than promoting an open, dialogic model, our current online “courses and systems…are distracting colleges and universities from the conversation that we should have been having since the late 1990s: how can we leverage open platforms and open access to augment our teaching and learning mission?”

Bass asks a connected and equally important question: “What aspects of good teaching, and contexts of good learning, do particular technologies serve well?” I am interested in the various assignment models Bass presents, particularly his example of the use of online archives in a late nineteenth century American literature course. I’ve actually thought about doing something very similar also in an American literature course, and I think the use of online archives would be extremely beneficial both to teaching students about archives, and exposing them to texts and materials outside of the traditional canon. Specifically, I imagine that teaching a nineteenth century American literature course with canonical writers like Hawthorne and Melville could be nicely supplemented by digitized popular literatures like dime novels and newspapers. In the ENG2800 course (on Ancient global literature) that I currently teach at Baruch, I think this kind of model would work equally well and could be expanded to include visual art, artifacts, and material history. Following Groom and Lamb’s ideas about an open and collaborative online learning environment, I think students (in this hypothetical archive assignment) could eventually create an online archive of their own, through other databases and perhaps their own visits to museums and libraries.

This is all to say that I think the argument put forth in “Reclaiming Innovation” is of particular relevance to the humanities, especially as we increasingly move towards the “digital humanities.” A lot of their ideas about collaborative, open, disciplinary boundary-crossing online classrooms (as opposed to the “severely limited” online courses we often see now), are already foundational to the study of the humanities. In other words, an education in the humanities aims to challenge accepted norms, and to get students to think differently through various cultural encounters, new literatures, and new ways of reading. With these ideas already at the core of the humanities classroom, it makes sense to look to technology to expand and enhance this kind of thinking and make sure it doesn’t limit our students instead.

Considering the Pressures on Innovation: Questions and Complications

In the article by Groom and Lamb, I’m struck by the comment from the professor who says: if he has to think about it [technology for teaching], it’s a problem. One factor informing this comment that merits more discussion—and always weighs on my mind—is the status of teaching in higher ed. In the current merit/status system, professors and grad students alike are often disincentivised to put too much time or energy (i.e. thinking) into teaching. So the message is: don’t think too much about teaching; prioritize research. In this paradigm, if technology matters to one’s own creative and intellectual work, then by all means, think about it, shape it, make it part of your intellectual labor and professional portfolio. If not, let those ed. tech people “manage” it for you. This culture around teaching perpetuates the LMS reign, despite the five problems Groom and Lamb so convincingly lay out.

Given this situation, how do we create a positive culture around teaching, technology, and innovation—around promoting new paradigms for teaching and learning and putting faculty energies there—when the University is pretty much the opposite of a positive, promoting culture when it comes to teaching? One way is to make our (and our students’) digital efforts in teaching and learning into a meaningful part of our professional portfolios. As I consider the move to hybrid in Great Works of Literature, I hope to come up with some ways to link hybrid course design to a professional/teaching archive where teachers can document their innovations and feel more incentive to develop their teaching with technology.

Another complicating factor is the economy of educational technology and innovation. Many faculty members at Baruch, hearing the goal of 20% online or hybrid by 2018, assume financial incentives drive this goal and suspect that any pedagogical benefits—that meaningful innovation around teaching and learning—are low on the priority list. So suspicion is our starting point. But the suspicion is hardly unfounded. Groom and Lamb talk about the soul-sucking focus on vendors and bids, the shift toward privatization of ed. tech and of the web more broadly. Further compounding the problem: Educational reform writ large privileges funding sources (The Gates Foundation) and profit (Pearson) and downplays or side steps practitioner experience, creativity, and input. Organized/sanctioned reform—like the Common Core, for example—doesn’t necessarily (ever?) mean innovation; it doesn’t necessarily privilege the learner or the teacher. (Beware Core to College, by the way, when it comes to educational reform movements.) Innovation in teaching is a profoundly complicated process.

And yet another complication when it comes to technological innovation is the question of a teacher’s own digital literacy, and how it limits how innovative and effective she can be. I recently read this NPR post about how all students and young professionals will—or should—learn to code, that learning to code is learning to think; it’s mastering a language that increasingly shapes our interactions and our world.  Graduate students at CUNY have access to programs that support their digital literacy and ed. tech savvy (like this, and this, and this). None of this was part of my formal training and I worry that I am an old goat when it comes to educational technology. What knowledge and abilities do I need that I don’t have to be innovative and effective as an instructor of a hybrid course?

On a final note, I’m fascinated by the “coping mechanisms” (Bass 11) students bring to college. In my own teaching, I actively work to undo some of the bad habits and destructive beliefs that such mechanisms promote (e.g. the belief that reading should easily yield “meaning,” and if it doesn’t, it’s because the reader just doesn’t “get it” so the reader gives up). For me, truly innovative classroom practice confronts and challenges learners’ assumptions about themselves and their capacities (as readers, writers, and scholars) and changes how they consume and create art, information, and argument. After reading these articles, I can see how the LMS reduces learning into systems and silos that ultimately reinforce both students’ and teachers’ coping mechanisms. How can I design a hybrid course that will help me resist and challenge these mechanisms (in myself and my students) more and more effectively?

Outsourcing vs. “In-sourcing”

I came to Bass’s “Engines of Inquiry” and Groom and Lamb’s “Reclaiming Innovation” with the kind of scepticism brought on by the “innovation fatigue” the latter article notes, along with my own troubled feelings about the isolating aspects of the “silo” effect of technology brought on by the corporatization of innovation. I felt both as a threat to the basic tenets of pedagogy that I hold dear: exposure to new concepts in safe and supportive spaces, critical thinking and questioning of cultural mystifications, and for me the central importance of human connection in any learning environment. What I took from both these texts is that there are great methodological ways of approaching the integration of technology in the classroom that do not hold new systems as a panacea for education and for that I feel grateful to discover this approach as I begin thinking about hybrid courses.

Groom and Lamb’s take on how we as educators can “reclaim innovation” was for me particularly engaging as I think about the possibility of my own hybrid course (which is not to say that Bass’s work was not helpful…I just don’t see my students cathecting toward CD-ROMs in 2014). Their isolating outsourcing as a key problem in the integration of technology in the educational setting made me develop a loose idea as to how I would like to approach my own use of hybrid learning. If outsourcing–of the software/hardware, of technical/professional support, and really of the expertise away from the classroom to “the latest product or saleable idea”–how can hybrid teaching and learning posit something quite the opposite? Essentially, how can we incorporate technology that does not embrace the silo stack in such a way so that instead of outsourcing innovation, we can”in-source” it–rely upon the capacities of the students as sites of innovation. How can we incorporate technology in the form of open platforms (using any technology that the teachers and students feel mutually comfortable with or willing to teach one another) to harness the pedagogical potential within the class?

Bass’s article articulates first steps of this process or insourcing potential in what I see as an effort to deconstruct the false limitations of the course, mainly its physical (classroom) and temporal (schedule) parameters. His idea of technology not as site of more passive learning (coping mechanism) but as an “engine of inquiry” has the potential to push the course–and its sites of learning and teaching–into times and places that both student and teacher can elaborate through process and experience (through blogs, videochats, sharing pictures, etc., that can make NYC a learning lab). Secondly, by removing the idea that a course has own teleological route (first we learn A to understand B, or first learn A then learn B because of a historical or other kind of ordering philosophy), we may democratize the classroom by de-emphasizing the expert-novice paradigm so that students understand their own key role in the course as a user and producer. I see in-sourcing as a method to use technology in an open and supportive way (beginning with mutual comfort zones and branching into mutual support of learning new tools) to re-imagine the course not as fixed but as full of potentiality.  Hybrid courses that look to insource seeks to each student to discover their own potential to understand, analyze and create–not just the potential of satisfying learning goals. My personal goal for this two-week period is open my own pedagogy to a flexible methodology to show students how to use their own resources “to spark” “the possibility” that exists “beyond those predefined uses” of literature, of technology, or of their own affective, experiential, or personal capacities.

The hybrid teaching model–in its potentially wide embrace of different technologies, sites of learning/teaching, and knowledges–seems an excellent way to shift innovation from existing outside the classroom to discovering the potential for innovation within it already. Seeing students as producers of the central innovative work of the class–through group study, assignments, and personal discovery–sets a new goal for the hybrid classroom. Untethering innovation from technology makes the process less “of a technological problem, one that requires a ‘system’ to ‘manage’ it” and returns it to the status of “toolkits that invite their users to adapt and extend them” in hopes of opening students to learning as that mythic “life-affirming adventure.”

Blog 1: Reclaiming the Classroom for the Student


A guiding belief of both “Reclaiming Innovation” and “Engines of Inquiry“ insists that education is an ongoing process of creative integration.   As Bass states, education “ . . . is often about indirection, ambiguity, complexity, and multiplicity.” I very much agree, and am hopeful that this idea will be, as these two texts propose, more realizable in a hybrid environment, and in particular, in three distinct areas of my Great Works in Literature course: personal authorship; collaboration (not only with one’s classmates and instructor, but with a much wider audience); and a variety of innovative sources.

The idea of ownership is nicely discussed by Groom and Lamb, as they propose creating a “domain of one’s own,” a central archive that will help the student to make connections between various personal, academic and professional environments. Education is, hopefully, an arena where the student is encouraged to strengthen his own unique way of thinking about and,  ultimately,  working in the world. A digital archive is not only potentially a permanent and public record, but a global one. As Bass says, “Nowhere else but in school will students ever produce work for no audience,” or indeed, for such a private audience as the traditional classroom provides. It’s important that students work through the connections between literature, their own lives, and the larger community, and this is especially true now, as courses in literature are being downsized (critics alleging, unfairly, I believe, low relevance to life after graduation).  I see the blog format as a viable tool in this exploration, as it is a format easily learned, encourages open expression, and allows students to move at their own pace.  As well, with each post, students publicly author a piece of text, and this authorship helps students to take ownership for their words and ideas.

Of course, taking authority is not the same as isolating one’s voice. If education is a process, then one’s voice is part of a continuous dialogue that is open to integration, revision, and reflection. Traditionally, literature has been taught in a lecture format filtered through the instructor.   This practice leaves little room for a student’s original interpretation, questioning, and, ultimately, true involvement with the text. True involvement is, in Great Works, an adventure into another world, culture, and time.  Baruch’s student body is itself diverse, and so allows for a richness of involvement with the both the text and others’ responses to that text.

The texts comprise, finally, as Bass reminds us, the architecture of the course, and these texts need to be supported with a variety of sources.   As Great Works is a general education course, scholarly works are useful, but only to a point.   To truly engage my students, I want to  motivate them with diverse verbal and non-verbal texts, including the untraditional, even possibly the unorthodox.  My hope is that the hybrid environment will help me to be as innovative as I am trying to guide my students to be.

Welcome to the Site for the CTL 2014 Summer Seminar

Over the next two weeks we will work and think together in this space about the implications of hybrid and online education in specific contexts at Baruch College. To see the schedule for this seminar, see the “Schedule” page, which is also linked at the top of each page on the site. You’ll see new content appear on the blog, including posts from your fellow participants and additional resources for your perusal. We’ll do our best to keep things organized as the content builds, but if at any point you’re unclear about what you should be doing, where, and how, please reach out to Kate O’Donoghue for clarification.

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Looking forward to an enjoyable two-week conversation!