Friday, June 22, 2012

Amelito Enriquez: Its the teaching, not the tools

English: This is a photo of the state-of-the-a...
This is a photo of the state-of-the-art library at Cañada College in Redwood City, CA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I had the great pleasure of attending and presenting at the Online Teaching Conference 2012 last week and hearing Amelito Enriquez deliver one of the keynote addresses.The conference website describes him as: ..."a longtime engineering and mathematics professor at Canada College which is located in Redwood City, CA. Cañada College has received a $10 million grant that will help rebuild the pipeline of engineering students from California’s community colleges to the UC and CSU systems while simultaneously increasing the number of minority students studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Amelito, the principal investigator for the grant, is one of the nation’s foremost experts on community college engineering education. He co-authored a paper, “The Dismantling of the Engineering Education Pipeline” that details the decline of community college engineering programs brought about by decreasing enrollment due to increasing divergence in lower-division course requirements and recent budget cuts to education. It received a Best Paper Award at the 2011 American Society of Engineering Education National Conference in June."

His story is certainly inspiring on many levels. He grew up in a poverty in Manila and went on to study at U.C. Irvine where he earned a Phd. in Mechanical Engineering. In December of last year, he was received the Presidential Award for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. Among his accomplishments cited in the Asian Journal article include:
  • establishing an intensive summer math program aimed at helping students improve their math test scores;
  • starting a Summer Engineering Institute for underrepresented students; 
  • partnering with the NASA to establish an internship program for students; 
  • and partnering with San Mateo County to help veterans transition from the military into engineering careers.
So if all that weren't enough, the instructional designer part of me was really excited about his discussion of the tools he uses.  He started teaching online by turning his courses into hybrid courses. He got a grant from Hewlett Packard for tablet computers and began to use CCC Confer - the California Community College's implementation of Elluminate Live (now Blackboard Connect) which is webinar software. Delivering content synchronously, students can attend class online or face-to-face. Faculty have the ability to archive the recordings and link to them. His methods are simple, he:
  • Shares his desktop
  • Uses MS OneNote (or Word, Windows Journal, etc.) as a "white board"
  • Uses Powerpoint for lectures (he makes all of these available as annotated PDFs)
  • Designates a student tech monitor
  • Records all class sessions
  • Makes the recordings easy to access from a single link to a webpage
All of this makes it easy for his students to engage with the material when ever they want. He is doing something right because his enrollments have increased by 8%. All of the technology he uses has been around for over ten years. It is a simple implementation of the technology. That is probably what makes his work so successful. He is living proof that there is no substitute for good teaching no matter what tools you use.

Related articles
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

DE 101: Preparing Students for Online Learning

On June 15th, 2012, my associate Barry Tucker and I presented at the Online Teaching Conference 2012 in San Jose, CA. We presented on DE 101, our live, free, fully online, two-week orientation for students here at College of the Redwoods.

There is an archive of our session in CCC Confer

College of the Redwoods offers its students "DE 101" a free, two-week, fully online seminar on how to take an online class and be a successful online student. In this seminar, students learn about Sakai and how to use other online tools such as their student email and The course covers the tools in Sakai as well as the skills required to be a successful online student. Topics covered include an over-view of the typical tools used in an online Sakai course but also cover, time management, online collaboration skills, solving technology problems, identity theft prevention and other topics of concern to online learners. The Distance Education department has completed 9 sections of this course. We have found that having this kind of training available before the student takes an online course (or concurrently) helps student completion and retention in online learning.

As we continue the research into how our course works, we will be putting our findings in a paper and sending it out to a journal. The seeds of that paper are in an earlier posting about DE 101.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, June 08, 2012

Plagiarism, TurnItIn, and Instructional Design

English: A photo I took in front of the Colleg...
Jeffery Maiten: A photo I took in front of the College of the Redwoods library after the rain (Source:  Wikipedia)
Here at College of the Redwoods, we use TurnItIn. TurnItIn is plagiarism detection software. We have it integrated with our learning management system's assignment tool so all papers that get uploaded to the assignment, get checked by TurnItIn. TurnItIn will connect to Blackboard, Moodle, WebCT, Angel, and Sakai (we use the latter). TurnItIn is basically the best software of its kind out there. I have used other software packages at other schools and none of them do as complete of a search as TurnItIn. It is not enough to just use Google. There are other efforts from the usual suspects, but none as complete or efficient as TurnItIn. Budgets being what they are, I recently checked out some free software. Interestingly enough, I selected a paragraph from one of my old blog postings as a test. The free software did not catch it as plagiarized. As a former English teacher, I have mixed feelings about plagiarism detection software. I would like to think that if you teach and model academic honesty that such measures are not necessary. That said, I know that classes other than composition don't always hove time to teach academic honesty, research and documentation. And there are other pressures on students that make the thought of saving time and effort by using the work of others more attractive. Some of what is called "plagiarism" comes from students not knowing how to properly cite their sources. I like to use reports from TurnItIn as teaching moments.

As an instructional designer, I have even more mixed feelings about using software to detect plagiarism. There are things that teachers can do to help prevent plagiarism:
  1. Teach writing as a process. If you require students to turn in the various stages of their paper - outline, discovery draft, bibliography, etc. then there is no room for the student to plagiarize. And when students try to circumvent the process, you know you are probably dealing with an academic honesty issue. 
  2. Dedicate a class session to academic honesty. This lets the students know that you value academic honesty and that you know how students can cheat. Make sure they get a copy of the school's academic honesty policy. Some even go so far as having the students sign a statement that says that they read and understand the policy. 
  3. Ask deeper questions. If the answers the students are giving you are coming from Wikipedia, then you are asking the wrong questions.Take a look at Bloom's Taxonomy and think about what kind of writing you are asking your students to do.
  4. Know your students. Get to know your students by asking them to keep a journal. Or begin the day with a short in-class writing assignment.If you know how they express themselves and at what level their writing is at, any changes would be a red flag for issues in the students' work.
  5. Bring in the students' experience. Ask the students to bring their experiences into the assignment. In part of your question, ask them to provide an example of a similar problem they have encountered in their previous work. Or have them interview a relative or employer.The learning theory Constructivism tells us that students learn best when they are able to apply what they are learning to past experience. 
  6. Let your students connect. Have the students work together on their revisions. Have them discuss their research in groups. This encourages students to bring their research to their audience. They can't discuss thoughts that are not their own. Also, this allows students to see how other students tackle assignments and research problems. 
  7. Make it relevant. Don't just ask students to take a position on a topic and argue for it. Require that they use a few news sources in their paper. I love teachers who complain about reading the same death penalty papers year after year. Change the assignment! Ask them to bring in a topic from the headlines. Have them find out what journalists or writers are covering their topic.
  8. Model academic honesty. Some of the same teachers who get worked up about plagiarism will sometimes be the same teachers who do not cite sources in their own class materials. Show students how it is done and why early and often. Start with that favorite quote or picture you put in your syllabus.
If you have other tips for preventing plagiarism or teaching academic honesty, I would love to hear from you in the comments!
Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, June 03, 2012

France: Minitel and the Internet

Minitel 1 (France, 1982)
Minitel, France, 1982. Wikipedia
I was just in Paris this month. How did I get to Paris? Fortunately for me, my car got stolen in October, and I decided to go to Paris instead of replacing it. We were a two car family but there are now only two of us. Two cars makes sense when we are both adjunct teachers teaching at three different colleges, but now that I am an administrator, it makes no sense to have two cars. I miss my non-descript Mazda Protege. So what did I do in Europe? I went on a long over-due vacation: I spent 8 days in Amsterdam researching Dutch art for a novel I am writing and spent 9 days in Paris just because I love Paris.

Paris, of course, was amazing. I was there 13 years ago and I never imagined it would take so long to get back. I love art, music, French literature, history, urban walks, and food, and Paris has all of that in spades. It is the most gorgeous, romantic city on earth and only San Francisco comes close. I have heard SF referred to as "Paris West" but interestingly enough, no one calls Paris "San Francisco East."

I inadvertently got unplugged in Europe. I had all of these great apps on my phone that were going to help me translate, navigate, mediate, and explicate my experiences in Europe, but Verizon charges Louis the XVIth era prices for international data and over-seas connections. The phone stayed home. I have a camera with the latest card format allowing me to take thousands of pictures and movies on my camera but my Ubuntu Linux netbook would not read the card. Neither would any internet cafe in Europe using Windows XP, which is most of them. On top of that, the budget hotels we were staying in were not exactly up to snuff with wireless. Wifi worked in the lobby and the first four floors, but after that, we were out of luck. Which is fine, we tend to stay in the kind of hotels that brag about "potable water." So I spent most of my vacation disconnected - I did not feel smarter; on the contrary, I would have loved to be able to talk to my people while traveling.

One of the headlines in Paris while I was there was "The second life of Minitel." Minitel was the bulletin board of the nation in the pre-internet age. It was their AOL. It has been around for 30 years and they are finally pulling the plug. They were going to stop the service last year but they gave in to pressure to wait for the 30th anniversary. But what exactly was Minitel? Minitel was a terminal-based service that used existing phone lines to let users access bulletin boards, make travel reservations, order from retail outlets, access databases, and telephone directories. The terminals were given away for free to 9 million people and the service is used by 25 million people because there is also a computer interface to the service. This was a lot like the bulletin board services in the United States.

According to Wikipedia, "Minitel was often considered as an impediment for a fast deployment of the Internet in France, since it already provided safe and easy online access for many useful services without requiring a personal computer. Indeed, it still has advantages over the Internet: it does not require subscribing to a service (except the phone service), buying and maintaining a personal computer..."

However the Minitel system got French people used to making purchases online and using online services for connecting to one another and communicating online. So it made the Internet possible in France. The people of France were familiar with all of the issues that we were only to meet up with later: the government did not intervene in pornographic bulletin boards, they said it was the parents responsibility.

In 1986, French students used the Minitel system to coordinate a national strike, demonstrating an early use of digital communication devices for "participatory technopolitical ends." This was a prelude to the Velvet Revolution in Eastern Europe, Twitter, and the Arab Spring.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, June 01, 2012

Is the Internet making us stupid?

Marshall McLuhan caused wide irritation with h...
Marshall McLuhan caused wide irritation with his statement that the traditional, book-oriented intellectuals had become irrelevant for the formulation of cultural rules in the electronic age. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is an article I wrote for the Times-Standard "Tech Beat" column:

Is the Internet making us stupid? Variations on this argument have been floating around since Nicolas Carr first wrote “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” in the Atlantic Monthly back in 2008. His idea is that the more we rely on computers to do our “thinking” for us, the weaker our brains become.

These arguments rely on a shallow definition of thinking. If I believe that the only way to express intelligence is through writing 20-page papers or consuming information in the same way that my grandparents did, then I am not that smart. Carr and others believe that if someone grows impatient with books, that person is experiencing some kind of cognitive deficit.

One problem with this argument comes from the fact that we really know little about cognition in the first place. Cognitive science is still in its relative infancy. This field is rapidly changing as technology advances, so making some kind of declaration on how we think and learn based on this new science is a bit premature.

And what if technology does change the way that we think? Is this necessarily a bad thing? Maybe that is how we evolve. We develop technologies to deal with problems in our environment, and as Marshall McLuhan says, “we shape tools and then our tools shape us.” He says that technology is just an extension of our natural faculties and abilities. We have the intelligence to invent fire and bicycles. Does this make us slower and weaker? Or did we invent stuff to make up for our weaknesses?

The Hansen Writing Ball, the first typewriter ...
The Hansen Writing Ball, the first typewriter sold commercially, invented by Rasmus Malling-Hansen around 1865, first manufactured in 1870. This was a model from 1878. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Carr recounts the story of the philosopher Nietzsche's introduction to the typewriter, and he says that “under the machines' sway” Nietzsche's writing became more terse and “telegraphic.” I think this is a good thing. It is refreshing when a philosopher can get to the point. My uncle Ed, also a writer, once said to me that “the word processor is to words what the chainsaw is to wood.” I knew exactly what he meant because I wrote a book in 1990-91 using a typewriter. It was the last major project I did using a typewriter. The typewriter had me on the floor literally cutting and pasting pages and paragraphs together. I may have enjoyed the process at the time, but I would never go back.

Carr discusses McLuhan in his article: “Media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought.” I agree with this. At various times in human history, our media, from the cave paintings of Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc to the Internet, has gone from being an oral and visual culture to a written culture and now back into a visual medium of connections. We are connected to the information, connected to one another, and connected to the means of producing information.

We have to let go of the idea that there is some kind of privileged media. Socrates distrusted writing because it removes people from how he thought we really learn, by having conversations. Carr talks about “deep reading” and that somehow, with all of this access to information, our reading will become shallow and sporadic. He seems to forget the mountains of trash that have made it into print (novelizations of television shows, for instance). Someone can read books their entire life and not make it out of the shallows.

Thomas Claburn wrote an article in the Oct. 15 edition of Information Week called “Is Google Making Us Smarter?” where he cites a study showing that there may be some benefits to computer use, especially with older adults. The study involved 24 volunteers between the ages of 55 and 76, half of whom had prior Internet search experience. According to the article, “Participants' brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans while they conducted Internet searches and read books. The study participants showed similar brain activity when reading, but when searching online, those with prior Internet experience also showed activity in the frontal, the temporal, and the cingulate areas of the brain, areas associated with complex reasoning.”

We are in a new era. But despite the fear we may have of new media, according to publisher Timothy McSweeny, “... there isn't as much bad news as popularly assumed. ... Book sales are up, way up, from twenty years ago. Young adult readership is far wider and deeper than ever before. Library membership and circulation is at all-time high.”

The latest technologies include new definitions of what a book might be. They might not be in traditional print. They might come on Kindles, Nooks, iPhones and iPads, and the Internet itself. But people are reading. Between Harry Potter and all of the vampire novels, the future of literacy is assured.

Geoff Cain is a member of the Redwood Technology Consortium and director of distance education at College of the Redwoods. Contact him at
Enhanced by Zemanta

Open Content Licensing for Educators Workshop

Image representing Creative Commons as depicte...
Image via CrunchBase
This is from Cable Green: 

2012 is a significant year for open education and OER. We are celebrating 10 years since UNESCO coined the term "Open Educational Resources".

In joining the global celebrations, the OER Foundation will host a free online training workshop on OERs, Copyright and Creative Commons licensing.

When: 20 June -  3 July 2012 (to coincide with the UNESCO World OER Congress in Paris).
Where: Online
Cost: Free. Registrations for this celebratory online workshop are now open:  Register today to reserve your seat.

We are aiming to break our previous #OCL4Ed record of 1067 registrations, so please share the gift of knowledge and invite colleagues and friends to join us.

We welcome graduates of former OCL4Ed workshops to join our lead facilitators and assist with peer-learning support for educators around the world who want to learn more about OER and open licensing.  More info on how you can assist coming soon. 

We look forward to welcoming you to OCL4Ed 2012.06.

With kind regards

The OER Foundation team
COL Chair in OER at Otago Polytechnic
UNESCO-COL Chair in OER at Athabasca University
Enhanced by Zemanta