Practicing technology integration decisions via the TPACK Game

I had the pleasure to co-facilitate two full-day Microsoft Technology Enriched Instruction workshops in the last week – one at William & Mary and one at the University of New England in Sydney. TEI Workshops (http://pil-tei.com) are designed to help college and university faculty find ways to integrate technology in their teaching in a way that both helps them to teach their content more effectively and to simultaneously find ways to engage their students in 21st century learning skills (21CLS). These workshops are very participatory, discussion-based, and action-oriented. By the end of the day, each participant develops the outline for a revised course activity, experience, assignment or project that they can take back to their teaching. They are lively and fun experiences, and I really enjoying helping to facilitate them.

TEI at the University of New England, Sydney Australia

TEI at the University of New England, Sydney Australia

Despite the technology focus for the workshop, one highlight for participants is a simple sorting/matching game that can probably be easily adapted to a range of different learning activities and content foci. In the context of the TEI workshop, this game is designed to help the participants match a content topic that they teach with learning activities and technologies that “fit” to create a powerful learning experience. In the game, participants are provided with blank white index cards, on which they write content topics for the courses they teach. We then provide them with a set of yellow pedagogy cards – each with a different type of learning activity (e.g., group discussion, simulation, demonstration, etc.). Finally, a set of green cards include different technologies that may be used in the classroom or online (e.g., presentation software, video recording, wikis, etc.). Through a series of rounds, participants are direct to either randomly draw or strategically combine sets of cards (content, pedagogy, and technology) to learn to identify and generate good “fit” among the three. This is called the TPACK Game and was originated by Judi Harris, Punya Mishra, and Matt Koehler back in 2007 at the National Technology Leadership Summit. Punya provides a good history of the game along with other variations. This is always one of the participants’ favorite activity of the workshop. It generates great discussion, which often extends beyond the 1:15 minute time block that we allocate for it.

The TPACK Game at TEI at the College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia

The TPACK Game at TEI at the College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia

While this experience is focused on a particular learning goal with specific reasoning processes in mind, this kind of simple sorting game can be extremely helpful in two respects. First, as one Australian history professor noted, considering a range of different teaching approaches and learning activities helped him to consider new possibilities. It’s only human nature to fall into routines, but this game can help you to break out of your normal practice and consider new ideas. Another way it can be helpful is to consider new ways to use familiar tools. OneNote is one of the applications we work with in the workshop. Many of the Australian participants were already using OneNote for their own notetaking and organization. When the encountered this technology in the context of the TPACK game however, they began to see applications for group work – particularly research projects. There were similar insights related to the use of Skype and Padlet as well.

In my mind, however, these aren’t the primary benefits to the TPACK game. I think the most powerful aspect of the game is the conversations that are catalyzed as participants discuss their choices and alternatives. Groups often become quite animated as they discuss different possible combinations of content, pedagogy and technology. They share their unique experiences and insights as they discuss the cards they are dealt. It is in these collaborations that some of the most transformative new approaches are developed. In the academy, we often don’t have the forum to discuss our teaching practice. The TPACK game is one way to drive this discussion. How else might we encourage these conversations on teaching practice in higher education?

Designing a multi-institution hybrid course, part 5

So, here we are at almost the halfway point of the semester. Hard to believe that Spring break begins next week. So far in this series, I've explored conceptualizing the course, the community of practice framework, and strategies to facilitate online discussion. Astute readers may also remember my rant about the importance of tools - particularly with the frustrations with using BlackBoard as the LMS. While I certainly stand by what I wrote about BlackBoard, I thought it was only fair to highlight one aspect of BlackBoard that is incredibly useful and powerful - the inline grading feature.

When I set up an assignment for students to submit a paper, I can also create a corresponding rubric to assist me in assessing the work. For example, I ask students to create lesson plan outlines for each of the core content areas in my course. Here's what the rubric looks like in BlackBoard:

Sample Rubric in BlackBoard

Sample Rubric in BlackBoard

For each dimension of the rubric, you can add comments to the student. You can also add general comments at the end. The scores that you enter on the rubric are then automatically added to the Grade Center. Students are then able to view the rubric and comments along with their grade. I must say, this works extraordinarily well. The Inline Grading feature, however, takes it to another level.

With Inline Grading, you can view the student's paper and the rubric in the same window:

BlackBoard Inline Grading with Rubric

BlackBoard Inline Grading with Rubric

Or you can display the rubric in a separate window if you prefer more room:

BlackBoard Inline Grading with Rubric in Separate Window

BlackBoard Inline Grading with Rubric in Separate Window

Using a rubric right alongside the student work is so useful. The Inline grading tool adds one last killer feature, though - you can embed comments directly in the student's paper as well. You can add text comments, draw on the document, highlight text, and cross through text.

BlackBoardComments.png

These markups are then saved with the document and can be viewed by the student.

Grading student work is certainly not my favorite aspect of teaching. I must say, however, that the simplicity and flexibility of the rubric and inline grading features of BlackBoard make the process both more efficient and more effective. 

Designing a multi-institution hybrid course, part 4

One thing that I've always agonized about in teaching partly online is how to set up and moderate a discussion. I've tried all the typical approaches. I've tried to let a discussion thread emerge organically without tying it specific numbers of posts, comments, and grades. I've done the more typical one original post and two comments per thread. I've used rubrics to assess the quality of the posts. In all these approaches, I'm popping in and out of the fora, commenting on as many posts as possible. None of this has every really felt right to me. Not to mention all that lurking and commenting - exhausting. In this course, with about 80 students spread across six discussion groups, clearly this wasn't reasonable. 

So, with the guidance of one of co-instructors of this course, we've tried a different approach. We've decided to set specific parameters on the numbers of posts required (you guessed it, one original post and two comments per thread) as well as time slots for both the original posts and comments. We also have a simplistic rubric to help ensure that the posts and comments add value to the discussion. All this has been pretty familiar to me. What's been different, however, is my role in the discussion.

Discussion

Discussion

Rather than constantly hovering over the threads, I have instead begun posting summary posts in each thread. I look for key themes, interesting points, interesting questions, etc. and generate a post that pulls in quotations, etc. This has enabled the discussion to develop more organically for the students. I suspect they feel like it's more a conversation than a Q&A with the instructor. The first rounds of posts, across all six groups, resulted in better conversations than any that I've been a part of. The summary posts give me the opportunity to synthesize and challenge different points of view. In fact, while it's not required or assessed, several students have posted comments and responses on my summary posts. And while this has been time consuming as well (next round I'll chart my total time spent in developing these summary posts), it certainly has helped me to identify themes in the students' thinking as well as some possible misconceptions and things that need to be addressed in class. In short, it's been a good pedagogical approach so far, I think.

In fairness, we've only had one round of discussions so far. Still, I think this has been a more manageable process for me and has resulted in better discussions among the students. I'll post a follow-up after the next round.

How about you? What works best for you in facilitating and assessing online discussions?

Designing a multi-institution hybrid course, part 3

This semester, I'm collaborating with colleagues at another institution to design and implement a hybrid course with four sections of students across two universities. If you've missed the first two installments in the series, in the first post, I overview the course purpose and structure. In the second, I discussed the opportunities and challenges with implementing an online community of practice. We're now a few weeks into the semester, and things seem to be going well so far. While it has been time consuming to design the structure for the course, it seems to be coming together. One recurring realization I've had over the last few weeks - tools matter.

Don't use the wrong tool for the job. (image credit turi_b - http://www.flickr.com/photos/turi_b/)

Don't use the wrong tool for the job. (image credit turi_b - http://www.flickr.com/photos/turi_b/)

We're using BlackBoard as the primary learning management system (LMS) for the collaboration. Specifically, we're making use of the discussion fora, pages to host rich media cases, the essay testing features for reader response items, and the online grading tool. I'm a relatively experienced BlackBoard user - although in the past my use was limited primarily to the discussion board and gradebook, including the wonderful rubric tool. What's been new to me this semester is the content hosting (in the form of creating pages with embedded text, images, and video clips) and the test creation tool. I recognize that these are new to me, but I've rarely been as frustrated as when using these two functions in BlackBoard. This frustration is despite the wonderful support (technical and pedagogical) from our helpful IT staff. Rather than structuring this post as a "BlackBoard bash," I want to reflect for a moment on the importance of selecting the right tool to support any kind of technology-enhanced teaching.

Any digital tool has it's own affordances and constraints. Every tool does some things really well (affordances) and just gets in the way at other times (constraints). My prior use of BlackBoard (primarily discussions and the grade center) has focused primarily on the affordances of the LMS. This has worked well for me and my students in the past. In going deeper with the tool this semester I've run (repeatedly) into the constraints. I can't tell you how frustrating something simple like embedding a YouTube video on a page has been. I keep lamenting how easy it would be to do the same task in another tool - like wikispaces. It wouldn't be so frustrating if there were an easy work-around, but even with significant support, some of the limitations have been a major source of frustration.

In the end, I think we've bent BlackBoard to our will and it will (for the most part) serve our needs. This experience, however, has underscored the point for me how important choosing the right tool is for the best possible experience. Were I to undertake a similar course in the future, I would look long and hard at the different LMS options (I'm looking at you, Canvas). I will make sure that what I want to do (at least the major functions of the course) are not only possible, but hopefully pleasant to use. Because, in a course like this, you find yourself spending a good deal of time in the LMS. For a hybrid or online teaching experience to be productive and rewarding, you have to enjoy using the tools.

Any advice on alternatives for this kind of experience? I'm eager to explore other options.,

The OneNote app is fantastic

I've written before on this blog about the utility of Microsoft OneNote for notetaking and organization. What I was writing about was the full-featured desktop app version on the Surface. Recently, however, I've (re)discovered metro-style app available for Windows tablets (including the Surface) and iOS devices for free through the respective app stores. This is a "lite" version of the full-featured app available for Windows PCs and tablets. The layout is simpler and the user has far fewer options. Typically, I don't prefer "lite" versions of apps, because I guess I consider myself more of a power user. In this case, though, I've actually unpinned the full version of OneNote on my Surface and exclusively use the new Web app. Why? Two reasons...

The interface is clean and efficient

This is a screenshot of a page from a OneNote notebook in the full version.  

This is a screenshot of a page from a OneNote notebook in the full version.

 

This is the same OneNote page in the Web app version

This is the same OneNote page in the Web app version

As you can see the interface on the Web app is much more clean. It doesn't offer all the features of the desktop version, but it has all I usually need, with one major advantage for a person like me who likes to add handwritten notes to my pages - the new "tool wheel thingy" - that's a technical term.

The "wheel" in the upper right-hand corner is an invaluable tool for quickly switching to inking mode

The "wheel" in the upper right-hand corner is an invaluable tool for quickly switching to inking mode

This wheel becomes visible when you tap any blank area of the screen. From here you can choose from a set of default tools or you can even "pin" your own favorite tools to the wheel for easy access. This is great for me, because I like to customize the different inking pens I use frequently. Simply put, this feature is just killer for simple, fast, and effective notetaking.

The Web app works great across all my devices

While the full version of the app is available only on Windows PCs and tablets (both Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 RT), the Web app is available via a Web browser or on iOS or Android devices. This is great for those of us who have a full stable of devices. I love the flexibility of know that whatever device I have with me, I can access, add to, and sync my OneNote notes. While the iOS app isn't nearly as good as its Windows RT brethren, it will work in a pinch.

The same OneNote page on an iPad

The same OneNote page on an iPad

So, if you haven't tried the OneNote app recently, I encourage you to give it a shot. I think you'll like it.


Designing a multi-institution hybrid course, part 2

One of our primary goals for the multi-institution hybrid course I've been working on (first discussed here) is to create what Lave and Wenger (1991) call a "community of practice." In this case, we're trying to build a diverse community of novice and practicing professionals in order to explore and enable students to create a vision for integrating technology in their teaching practice. In this case, the community will be comprised of three instructors (each with a different area of expertise), additional university faculty and graduate students, a group of practicing elementary school teachers, and four sections of a students in a course in two university's teacher education programs. The purpose of a community of practice (COP) structured in this way is to provide diverse expertise, experience and points of view centered on a real-world challenge.

"Network" by jairoagua - http://www.flickr.com/photos/31065898@N08/

"Network" by jairoagua - http://www.flickr.com/photos/31065898@N08/

In theory, this approach provides a relative advantage to a single course instructor. The challenge, however, is in coordinating the efforts of these individuals in disparate physical and professional contexts. For the instructors, this has inspired the need for close coordination, not only of course goals, objectives, and activities, but also on the particular roles and contributions individuals can make to help build, nurture and sustain the COP. For the instructors, this is pretty straight forward. Each instructor is taking the lead on developing the class session plan, resources, and facilitation of online discussion in their particular area of expertise. For example, I am designing the course content, discussion, and resources for technology in the social studies. In addition to this course planning, I have also recruited an experienced classroom teacher with a strong vision for technology in the social studies. 

What's less clear to me at this point, is how the teacher partners, additional faculty and graduate students, and the students in the courses themselves will help to build the community. How, for example, can the classroom teachers contribute to students' learning beyond the creation and facilitation of their particular course module? How much can we expect busy teachers (who are volunteering their time) to engage in the online community? how can we ensure that we provide the space for the members to contribute their own expertise and experience and still remain true to the overall vision for the course? To what extent do we require students to contribute to the discussions (e.,g., each student will create an original post...) rather than to allow the community to emerge organically? John Drummond ponders this question in an interesting blog post entitled, Gardens of Discussion: What Makes Online Communities Work? We've decided that we'll adopt the "industrial farm" approach that John discusses in his post, essentially providing strict guidelines and structure to the discussion.

In think the jury is out on how (or if) this community will come together in the ways that we're hoping. If all goes well, I think this COP approach will provide significant benefits our students' learning in the course, and potentially beyond. I'm quite cognizant, though, that this significant complexity in course structure, facilitation and interaction may make for a convoluted, potentially distracting element of the course. I'm hoping that in chronicling the effort in this blog, and through the related research study, we'll be able to learn lessons from this work and help to inform their efforts, as well as our classes in the future.

 

 

Designing a multi-institution hybrid course, part 1

This semester, I'll be teaching a course for undergraduate students on how to integrate technology in their teaching. This course is similar to the one I discussed here and here. In this and other iterations of the course, I've included some online activities to complement the primarily face-to-face course. This semester, however, more of the content will be moved online and perhaps even more significantly, I'll be sharing the teaching and facilitation of the course with instructors from the University of Virginia. The vision is to create a classroom community comprised of four sections of the course - three at UVA and one at WIlliam & Mary. Each of the instructors, myself included, has different teaching experience and expertise. So, in this way, it will be a distributed expertise model. One other element that is interesting in this course is that we will also be partnering with practicing teachers to bring their expertise in both designing the course content and in facilitating the discussions and providing feedback on student work. I'm excited about the development of this community of practice. As you might imagine, however, this complex structure will significantly increase the complexity of the course design and implementation. This is the first of a series of posts where I'll share insights and lessons learned in this process. I'd love to hear from others who've tried something similar or are interested to do so. Please begin the conversation by posting a comment below.

Like building a house, consider time and effort has gone into the planning of this course

Like building a house, consider time and effort has gone into the planning of this course

We've had several organizational meetings wherein we had to determine the shared course goals, key assignments, and overall structure for the course. We will also be conducting a research study on the process and outcomes, so this obviously adds more decisions and coordination to the mix. Despite the challenges, it's been a rewarding experience so far - one that's challenged my thinking and expanded opportunities in terms of course content and design. 

In this course, we're focused on guiding students through an exploration of technology integration in each of the four core content areas (English language arts, math, science, social studies). Each content area module will span three weeks and open with the exploration of a TPACK rich media case. This portion of each module will take place completely online, with opportunities to discuss the content with classmates and instructors at both sites as well as the classroom teacher partners.Students will then move onto two additional days of learning related to technology in each particular content area. Some of these activities will take place in the classroom, some online. The capstone assignment is the design and presentation of a technology-enhanced teaching unit that can be implemented in their practica or student teaching setting.

Initial conversations, conducted via videoconference, focused on fleshing out course objectives, assignments, the calendar, and structure. Once these were nailed down, we shifted to finding a course management tool that would support the kind of learning experience we envisioned. After considerable discussion and consideration of alternatives, we settled on BlackBoard as the tool that would support our community of practice. BlackBoard is flexible enough to support both the fully online, and hybrid elements of the course. Perhaps most importantly, in contrast to the collection of tools I utilized for a similar experience last semester, BlackBoard will be the "one stop shop" to support the course learning activities. As I've begun building content for the course, I'm increasingly comfortable that this decision will work well for what we're trying to do. It's certainly not without it's challenges, however. In the next post, I'll share my experience of moving what has been primarily a face-to-face course to a hybrid format, focusing on lessons learned in the process.

If you have questions or comments about this experience, please add a comment below. I'd love to hear from readers with similar experience or interest. Stay tuned for the next installment in the series...

Productivity for a new year - focus on efficiency or effectiveness?

I don't typically spend a lot of time making resolutions, intentions or even major goals as I transition into a new year. Instead, I prefer to look back at the prior year and take stock. In part, this means reviewing my projects and determine whether they should be continued, paused, or deleted. I also try to think about areas in which I struggled in the prior year and how I might be able to address these challenges in the new year. Finally, I try to take a stock back and look at my work life holistically. In general, how are things working?

One thing I've been mulling over the last few days is my personal productivity. In some ways, it's been a really productive year. I've generally done a good deal of "shipping" this year - journal articles, workshops, and even my first book, And Action: Directing Documentaries in the Social Studies Classroom. I've met my deadlines and moved my projects forward. This is mostly thanks to my task/project management system. Over the last couple of years, I've really perfected my system of capture, organization, and execution using my software of choice - Todoist. I can generally crank through my tasks on the way to meeting the next deadline. I had a nagging feeling of discontent, though, as I reflected back on 2013.

I was listening to the latest episode of the Mikes on Mics podcast, and hosts Mike Vardy and Michael Schechter were discussing the meaning of productivity. Mike Vardy was arguing that the key to productivity is balancing efficiency and effectiveness. 

Stone Balance by t.klick

Stone Balance by t.klick

This resonated with me, because I think I had a really efficient year last year, but I don't know how effective it was. For me, effectiveness boils down to a question - am I working on the right things? When I look back, I don't see a grand plan or overarching vision to my projects, publications, etc. I think I've been working hard, but I don't know how much time I've spent being deliberate about my choices for what to work on. I think that for me, as things come at me, I just want to say yes. And with a high level of efficiency, I can usually manage to get things done. What's missing for me is attending to the question of what I should be working on. 

So, here's my focus for the year. It doesn't matter how efficient you are if you're working on the wrong projects. Likewise, even if you have a great sense of the right work for you this year, if you aren't able to organize and manage your projects it's likely that you either won't get things done, or you'll miss deadlines. So, I guess that if I were going to make a resolution, intention, etc., for 2014, it would be to find a proper balance between efficiency and effectiveness in terms of my work.

Results of Online Hybrid Teaching

Back in November, I wrote an initial post on my first real foray into extended hybrid teaching. As a quick recap, students progressed through a three-week fully online module on lesson planning for technology integration in the K-12 teaching.  Aside from two other single session online experiences, the rest of the 15 week course took place in a face-to-face format. And while the students expressed some discomfort with the fully online module, they were mostly positive about the experience. Before I really looked at the work my students produced, I was fairly happy with the experience. What remained for me to see was what their work in this module looked like. Upon further review, I'm quite pleased.

At the conclusion of the three-week module, students turned in a technology-enhanced lesson plan that they could implement in their student teaching internship. Along with the lesson, students had to turn in a technology product that tied to the lesson. For example, if students planned to challenge their students to create a digital timeline or wiki space, they had to create a sample of what their students might create. Finally, students had to complete a semi-structured reflection on their rationale for the technology they included and how they saw the use of technology connecting with both their content and instructional strategies. The last portion of the reflection asked students to discuss the planning process in which they'd engaged in the module. In this post, I'll quickly summarize the products they created along with their reflections. 

The products that students created were quite strong. I have used a validated assessment rubric to score the lesson plans and products. When I compared the scores of students in two sections of my course this year with students in the prior two years, their rubric scores were significantly improved. The students who completed the experience completely online scored better in all dimensions of the rubric than students in the prior two cohorts. This was encouraging.

Perhaps even more encouraging to me were their reflection responses. While I don't have a way to systematically compare these reflections to prior years, I am all but certain that these reflections were far more substantive and nuanced than in prior years. The vast majority of the students were able to articulate fairly sophisticated rationales for the technology they included in their lessons and how it connected to their content focus and instructional strategies. This is often difficult for preservice teachers since they don't have nearly as much classroom teaching experience, even compared with novice teachers. There is a fair bit of research that novice teachers tend to default to their own experience as students when designing their own instruction. In essence, they often "teach how they were taught." In the case of this cohort, however, it was clear to me that they had developed significantly stronger rationales than prior groups.

One key affordance of the asynchronous nature of the online module to facilitate increased reflection

One key affordance of the asynchronous nature of the online module to facilitate increased reflection

It difficult to say whether these differences were solely due to the online module. My gut tells me, though, that this particular cohort was not that different (if at all) from prior cohorts. My strong suspicion is that it was the extended time to reflect, increased chances to discuss their evolving thinking, and the requirement to document their ongoing thinking that was afforded by the asynchronous online module that made the difference. I'm so intrigued by these results that I plan to move more of a similar Spring course to a fully online format to see if these hunches hold up.

I'll be documenting the process of developing this new blended course, which I hope will be roughly 50% online through a series of posts. I'll develop out posts on the planning process, facilitation strategies, and the roll-out over the next semester. I hope that you'll follow along and add your comments as I go.

 

Online Storage and Access

With all the digital content in our lives (documents, images, presentations, pdf files, etc.), it's critical to develop a robust storage solution that allows you to access what you need, when you need it, from where you need it. In this quick post, I'll share two online file storage and access solutions that will literally make your life better - in a geeky sort of way.

binders.jpg

Option 1 - Dropbox

I started using Dropbox probably 3-4 years ago with the free 2GB storage account. At first, I really only used the Web interface that allows you to upload documents into folders you create through the Web site. Once uploaded, you can access your files in Dropbox from any Web browser or through apps on your phone or tablet. Stop there, and this is already pretty amazing. 2 gigabytes of free storage that you can access from anywhere. Add to that, though, the ability to share a folder or single file with anyone via an email address or link, and you're really cookin' with gas. I've saved the best for last, though... Install the desktop client, and Dropbox creates a local folder on your computer's hard drive. From this point on, any time that you save a file into this folder it is uploaded to your online file storage automatically in the background. Access and change a file on your smartphone? It's automatically uploaded to your online storage and downloaded to any computer with the client installed. I literally have Dropbox installed on probably four computers or tablets and the service magically keeps the files synced across all devices. Really amazing. Seriously.

Option 2 - SkyDrive

Just when I thought nothing could trump my love for Dropbox, I discovered Microsoft's SkyDrive through my work on the Technology Enriched Instruction project. SkyDrive does everything exactly like Dropbox, except it includes 7 GB of free storage (both services offer multiple upgrade options to get more storage space). This just where SkyDrive gets warmed up, though. The huge added benefit of SkyDrive is the built-in, free Web apps that allows you to work with your files via any Web browser on a computer or tablet. These Web apps are essentially slimmed down versions of all the Office applications. So, if you save a Word document in your SkyDrive folder, you can access the file through the Web browser, then click on the Edit tab and you can edit the file in your Word browser or, if installed, on your desktop application. Either way, as soon as you save changes to the document, it's automatically uploaded to your online storage space (and all your computers or other devices with the desktop application installed). There are free Web apps for Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and OneNote, my personal favorite notetaking utility. It really is an incredible tool... for free. 

I'm sure there are other options available, but these are two outstanding, free ways to store and access files online from anywhere. If you don't already use one of these services, what are you waiting for? Get to it.

Diving into Hybrid Teaching

At the College of William & Mary, the primary part of my teaching load is working with undergraduate and Masters students in our teacher preparation program to help them to effectively integrate technology in their teaching. One of the capstone projects in the course is to challenge them to design a technology-integrated learning experience that they can use in their student teaching next semester. I introduce them to a flexible planning approach that I developed with my colleague, Judi Harris, called the learning activity types (LAT) approach. For novice teachers like my students, this is an involved process that typically spans three class meetings. In the past, I'd facilitated this process in class, using a variety of whole group and small group activities. For the first time this year, we designed an online module to replace this in-class experience. In a series of posts, I want to explore this shift to a hybrid model that focuses on three primary areas: my experience as an instructor in this new mode of teaching, benefits for and limitations to the learning process for the students, and learning outcomes for the students. In this first post, I'll briefly over the process and module and share my insights as the instructor.

Screenshot from the Blendspace online learning module

Screenshot from the Blendspace online learning module

I used Blendspace to host the online learning module which spanned three weeks. During this time, we did not meet face-to-face for any portion of the work. Students worked through the module asynchronously with periodic checkpoints and assignments that they were to complete either individually or in small groups that I had created for them. They shared their work along the way through a BlackBoard discussion forum, Google Hangouts, and a commenting feature in Blendspace. In the end, students completed their instructional plans and turned them in to me through group blogs, which are publicly available.

This was a new experience for me as an instructor. I've done a number of online experiences for students to complete in lieu of meeting for class. I'd never done a multi-week experience that spanned such a long time, however. Moreover, this module guided them in the process of creating the key assignment for the course. So, in both these ways, this was a bit of a risk for me.

It certainly took some adjusting my time and work during these three weeks. Of course, I completed the vast majority of the planning for the experience in advance. My primary role during the three weeks was to facilitate discussion, provide feedback, and occasionally crack the whip when students fell behind in the process. This meant that I spent a considerable amount of time online - and particularly in BlackBoard. I really value and enjoy the face-to-face interactions with students, so this was a shift. I always felt a little bit tethered to my computer as well - particularly during a few of the more challenging phases. So, while I wasn't meeting with the students during the scheduled class time, I'll bet that I spent more time responding to their posts than I would have in class.

While the time spent in BlackBoard was not my favorite, I quickly saw real benefits for doing this experience online. First, students from different sections of the course were able to work together. Perhaps more importantly, I think the increased accountability of students posting their work on the discussion board encouraged them to participate more fully in the work than if they'd done so in the form of small group discussion in class. Perhaps most importantly, the fact that students' thinking was visible in this way allowed me to answer questions and correct misconceptions or misunderstandings early in the process. Consequently, from my vantage point, students understood and engaged in the planning process to a greater degree than students in prior years. In my mind these benefits far outweigh the bit of discomfort I experienced in facilitating the work online.

All in all, things went well. With the help of my students, I've identified a few areas that could be ironed out. There was some confusion about when certain steps were to be completed. In some cases, members of the groups worked at different rates, making the discussions together difficult. I incorporated a few too many tools (Blendspace, BlackBoard, Google Hangout, group blogs) - both for me to stay on top of and for the students to navigate. Fortunately, these are all manageable fixes that should be fairly easy to implement the next time around.

What's not clear to me, yet, is exactly how the students worked through the process. In the next post, I'll explore this aspect of the work. I'm cautiously optimistic about the results, but I'll have to go to the data.

Don't Get Lost in "Doing" Productivity

One tricky rabbit hole that is easy to go down is becoming so focused on "doing" productivity that you don't get anything done.

Rabbit in a Hole by malexmave

Rabbit in a Hole by malexmave

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have to continually check myself to make sure I'm focused on the important work in front of me and not experimenting with the latest system or app. I had planned for a couple of weeks to do this post, and then I ran across this post from Asian Efficiency -  Why you should stop fiddling with apps. It's an excellent post from Thanh Pham. Enjoy. 

Task Management Software

One critical aspect of staying productive for me is managing my tasks. Like you I would suspect, I have a number of different projects on my plate at one time. It can be very difficult to keep moving them all forward without a system to keep track of where you are and where you want to go. For me, a good task management app is critical to help me to keep all the plates spinning - and especially to keep them from crashing to the floor. 

The Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology developed by David Allen has really helped me to keep myself organized over the years. One of the key aspects of this approach is to develop a trusted system to organize and track all there is to do. One of the first and best apps available to implement the GTD system was Omnifocus. I've used Omnifocus for years to create projects, tasks, start dates, end dates and to develop systems for weekly and monthly reviews. I never quite felt, though, that I had my arms totally around the capabilities of Omnifocus. I was always aware of the fact that I was only scratching the surface of it's capabilities. I eventually ran into two limitations that led me to explore other alternatives, however. First, it is only available on Mac and IOS. Second, there is no Web interface to access your data. As I have grown more fond of my Surface and increasingly work at a number of different computers, these limitations have really hamstrung me. So, as much as I've enjoyed using Omnifocus, I needed a new tool.

There are a number of different tools, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, available for productivity nerds. I really like the collaborative capabilities of Asana, but for whatever reason the metaphor and user interface didn't click with me. I like the look of Remember the Milk, but it's just too limited for what I need in a system. I really thought I'd found a winner with Wunderlist, and even paid for the premium service, but the workflow of adding and working with tasks just didn't work for me. Finally I found Todoist, and I couldn't be happier.

Todoist Homepage

Todoist Homepage

Todoist is a cross-platform app that includes a Web interface and several different native applications. The data syncs seamlessly across all my devices for a totally seamless experience. New users can sign up for a free account that is probably all that 90% of users will need. I chose to upgrade to the Premium service for $29 a year to add some key functionality for me. Honestly, even if I didn't need this functionality, I probably would've upgraded anyway, just to support the development of this great service.

 

My Projects in Todoist

My Projects in Todoist

I've set up Todoist with a number of different projects along with their attendant tasks. I'm able to focus on just those tasks I've assigned to be due today, or I can look at 7 days at a time. I love that on the app icon on my iPhone it includes a badge with the number of items due today. It's great to see at a glance how much more I have on my plate on a given day. It includes a number of other features that I don't use yet, but may explore as I become more comfortable with my system. For example, you can add labels to tasks. One thing I've been considering using this for is when I've delegated a task to someone else. If I add their name as a tag on a particular task, then I can just view a particular tag to see what that particular person owes me. You can also add different priorities to tasks as well. 

I'm sure I'll continue to refine my workflow and the way I use Todoist to manage my projects and tasks, but it's working great for me right now. I highly recommend this rock-solid service. What tools do you use to help you manage all that you have on your to do list? 

 

 

21st Century Learning Design in the College Classroom

Over the past few years, I've been working on helping to develop a project called the Microsoft Technology Enriched Instruction (TEI) program. This is a professional development effort developed by faculty and sponsored by Microsoft to help college professors find ways to integrate technology in their teaching. It is structured around two frameworks. The first, technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK), helps participants find ways to connect their disciplinary knowledge with their instructional approach in ways that utilize technology effectively. This part of the workshop helps faculty to identify ways the technology can support teaching and learning in their discipline.

 

Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by tpack.org

Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by tpack.org

In working with faculty from around the world, we found that many faculty also require some assistance in thinking about when technology will really make a difference in their teaching and their students' learning. To address this need we've began to draw on the 21st Century Learning Design (21CLD) framework. This framework was developed by Microsoft partners in learning in conjunction with SRI International and Innovative Teaching and Learning research program. In contrast to many other 21st-century skills frameworks, the 21 CLD framework is both research-based and very concrete in terms of classroom application.

The framework identifies six primary skills that students should develop as they progress through their education: collaboration, knowledge construction, self-regulation, real-world problem-solving and innovation, use of ICT for learning, and skilled communication. Along with the definitions for each of these skills, the framework offers detailed examples and rubrics of how educators can design learning experiences that substantively address that particular skill. This framework appeals to me as a teacher in its specificity and the ability to think in terms of different levels of implementation. 

21st Century Learning Designs

21st Century Learning Designs

This 21 CLD framework has been very helpful in the TEI workshop in both providing a strong rationale for faculty to consider integrating technology into their teaching and in offering a vision for what this looks like in the classroom. If you're interested in exploring ways to meet the needs of your students in the 21st century, increase the rigor and interactivity of your coursework, or challenge yourself to level-up in terms of what you ask your students to do, please check out the Partners in Learning website for an overview of the 21 CLD framework and associated rubrics for 21st-century learning design. If you're interested in the Technology Enriched Instruction workshop, I encourage you to check out that site as well.

How do you integrate one or more of these skills and your teaching?

 

Determining Priorities: The Eisenhower Matrix

One of the aspects of being a professor that I really enjoy is the freedom to pursue different interests and projects. I do find it challenging at times, however, to select among competing priorities. Because there's never enough time to take on all the possible projects that come your way, it's important to be able to determine those opportunities that are the best for you, personally and professionally. One such strategy is what's become known as the Eisenhower Matrix (fans of Stephen Covey will also find this familiar).  

This method was said to be used by President Eisenhower to help him to determine priorities by considering a task or project relative to how urgent and how important it was. According to this method, the more urgent and important a task or project is, the higher you should prioritize it. If a task or project is low in terms of urgency and importance, it's probably not worth doing. It is typically presented in a four quadrant matrix, as depicted in the image below from the Mindtools blog:

The Eisenhower Matrix from The Urgent/Important Matrix

The Eisenhower Matrix from The Urgent/Important Matrix

I particularly like how the author of the post characterizes each quadrant with a descriptor. Labels help me, I guess. 

As a new opportunity or task comes your way, consider it's urgency and importance relative to what else is on your plate. You can use your work roles/responsibilities to help you define urgency and importance. You can also consider your own personal needs and desires as factors that help you position an opportunity on the matrix. For example, I recently received proofs back on a book that will come out this November. Assuming it comes out on time, it will coincide nicely with a conference presentation about the book. Now, if the book is completed and printed in time, this may result in higher sales and greater visibility for my work. Therefore, while attending to the minutia of the proofs was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do today, it was both urgent and important. This translates into a "critical activity." In contrast, while developing an ebook on effective presentation techniques with digital media is very interesting to me, relative to what else I have on my plate, it's probably not urgent or important. In other words, at least at this point, this would probably be classified as a "distraction." Beginning this blog is kind of an interesting case, however. While it's not likely to help me to advance in rank or line my savings account, it is a personal interest and is sustaining to me personally. It helps me to process my ideas and hopefully develop a community of like-minded folks to share strategies, tools, and ideas. Therefore, while not urgent, it is important to me and therefore I would classify it as an "important goal." So, it's worth doing, but probably will get put on the back burner in cases where more urgent and important tasks come to the fore.

 

 

 

 

Eisenhower is said to have remarked, "What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important." I think of this approach as a kind of compass to help address Eisenhower's observation. While still requiring some thought and subjectivity, breaking down a task or project's relative urgency and importance can be a helpful cognitive tool to prioritize your work. What's trickiest for me is not spending too much in the "interruptions" category. A high percentage of emails certainly fall into this category. And while some of these items do need attention, the matrix helps to keep me focused on trying to stay in the "critical activities" category as much as possible.

 

Compass Rose by mwcarruthers

Compass Rose by mwcarruthers

What tools and strategies are helpful to you in being strategic with your priorities? 

Paper vs. Digital

When considering how to be the most productive, digital vs. paper is a key decision. We have lists to make and review, ideas to sketch out, notes to take, and information to keep track of - all of which can be done through digital, paper, or some combination of means. This is something I've continued to struggle with over the years, but I feel like I've finally hit on what works for me.

First, it's important to point out that there advantages and disadvantages for choosing one approach over the other. Paper equals simplicity. Nothing is quicker or less obtrusive than jotting down a quick note in a notebook.  You can select from a range of different size notebooks, writing tools, and products. Paper is great for quickly capturing ideas, sketching, and processing information in a number of ways. This format also has a number of limitations. When you have a number of different projects and meetings, it can be very difficult to keep things organized. It's also very tedious trying to find a particular note among a number of different notebooks, pages, and sections. 

 

 

Moleskine Macro 1 by fracking

Moleskine Macro 1 by fracking

You can also use a range of digital tools to capture and process ideas. From robust, full-featured note-taking and data processing/organization applications like OneNote and Evernote that work on multiple platforms (Windows, Mac OS, IOS, Android) to more single purpose tools like OmniOutliner, Padlet, or MindMeister, one can easily find a digital processing tool to fit a particular need. Digital tools provide a number of advantages. First, it can be easy to lose a notebook. I know I've lost several. When this happens, you are completely out of luck. With digital tools, they are often automatically backed up to the cloud. So, not only can you recover them, you can access many of them from any Internet-connected device. Searching for specific notes or information is also much easier with digital capture tools. You can incorporate any type of digital content and also share your ideas much more easily than with paper.

 

 

OneNote screenshot

OneNote screenshot

The trick, I think, is to find the right balance for you between the "naturalness" of pen and paper with the utility of digital tools. After much searching, I believe I've found what works for me. For quick notes (e.g., when someone shares a Web address with me over lunch, I jot it down in my David Allen Notetaker Wallet) or to plan out specific tasks for a day (see the post on the Emergent Task Planner) I prefer paper. This is the quickest, and least obtrusive way for me to capture this info. For all my note-taking, I've migrated to OneNote. This is the easiest way for me to gather everything in one place, access it on all my devices, and easily search across all my notebooks. For a discussion of how I use OneNote, check this post. It's not a flawless or totally consistent system, but it seems to help me get things done.

This is what's working for me. It may not work for you in the same way. I think the key is to choose deliberately, based on the tool's affordances and constraints. What are the key tools in your workflow in managing all the stuff in your daily life?

 

The Microsoft Surface as a Productivity Device

One of the things that intrigues me most about personal productivity is the idea of designing efficient and effective workflows. By this I mean developing common sets of processes to accomplish different tasks. For example, I often need to read and comment on my students' writing. In the past, I relied on printing their work and marking it up with a pen. I would then pass these back the following week in class. This worked fairly well for me and my students, except for three issues:

  1. My writing is terrible - I even had trouble translating my own writing when students couldn't read my chicken scratch
  2. This process delayed my getting comments back to students in a timely manner - particularly on rough drafts that they hoped to revise prior to submitting the work
  3. Unless I made photocopies of the commented work, I didn't have a record of comments I'd given them at different stages of the process - a problem with a major piece of writing like a dissertation proposal that goes through many revisions

So, these issues were frustrating enough that I was determined to plan a better workflow.

To mitigate these concerns, I began to use the robust commenting features built in to Microsoft Word. Between highlighting snippets of text, tracking changes, and adding comments in the margins, I was able to replicate the same kind of process without some of the challenges inherent in working with paper/pen.

When the iPad was released several years ago, I began an experiment in trying to shift this workflow to a tablet device. I loved the lightweight form factor and ability to read the work more like a document on a table in front of me instead of reading on a vertical screen of my laptop or desktop. I was especially jazzed about the idea of being able to add hand drawn comments and scribbles via a capacitive stylus. Fortunately, a number of robust PDF editing apps were developed for the iPad. I so wanted to figure out and enjoy this workflow, but after two years of near constant exploration, I ran into some new (and old) workflow challenges.

  1. I had to convert every piece of student writing to a PDF file, then either email it to myself or save it to Dropbox in order to access it on the iPad
  2. It was often even more difficult to get the commented documents off the iPad and back to the students
  3. Using the capacitive stylus to leave handwritten comments made my poor handwriting even more difficult to read.

Essentially, with the iPad I introduced even more problems to my workflow than in either of the first two approaches.

When I began working with the Microsoft Technology Enriched Instruction (TEI) project, I had the opportunity to explore a range of Microsoft software, tools, and devices. About two months ago I received a Surface RT and began to explore this as an iPad alternative. It didn't take me long to realize that the Surface is an entirely different device than an iPad. While the iPad is an excellent consumption and entertainment device (my kids love using it for all kinds of activities), trying to use it as a real productivity device was a constant headache for me.

Here's what the workflow looks like on the Surface.

  1. I either save my students Word documents to a Dropbox or Skydrive folder (or set it up so that the students can upload files there directly)
  2. I open them up in the full version of Word (that's included for free on the Surface RT) and use the full set of track changes, comment options, etc. to mark up the documents
  3. I can use the same capacitive stylus with the writing recognition tool built in to the device and it does an amazing job of translating my chicken scratch into crisp, clear typed text
  4. I simply save the file and send it back.

The addition of this one device has literally transformed the way I can provide students with feedback on their writing. The workflows I use with the Surface are not only way more robust and simpler than the iPad, I actually find that this 2 pound device has replaced my laptop and desktop for all but a few key functions. The best part is that not only can I develop these workflows easily, I actually look forward finding new opportunities to use this productivity tablet.

"Seasons" in the academic year

On a recent Mikes on Mics podcast with Erik Fisher (host of the Beyond the To Do List podcast), they briefly explore the idea of repeating and recurring tasks that are sometimes related to the seasons. For example, they talk about the fact that in the northeast U.S., you need to hire a snowplow in the fall so that you're ready for the winter snow. Ideally, you set up a repeating reminder on say October 15th each year to remind yourself to hire a snowplow. For those tasks or projects that you can anticipate happening at regular intervals, it can be helpful to set up these reminders in advance so that they are out of your head, but not completely forgotten. This notion of capturing tasks and placing them in a trusted system is one of the hallmarks of the Getting Things Done (GTD) approach to productivity, and one that works very well for me.

Even though in the podcast they only touched on this notion of seasons dictating certain tasks and projects, it made me think about the rhythm and seasons of the academic year. The start-up tasks that occur at the beginning of each year are fairly predictable. One needs to develop/revise syllabi, obtain class lists, set-up a class Web space or other way to diffuse information, and do the careful planning for the first few class sessions. This is true for the Fall and Spring semesters. In the Fall, though, there are probably additional, predictable tasks. I know, for example, that I need to attend to program reviews that are due in early October, circulate the spring class schedule, and do the requisite travel authorization forms for fall conferences. These tasks are as predictable as February 15th (tax day in the U.S.). And yet, every fall I tend to plan for project development work, writing, and a myriad other generative tasks that are simply less urgent than the aforementioned recurring tasks. In reality, no matter how motivated I am to plan the next research project, it probably needs to wait until I get these other (less engaging) tasks completed first. It is hard for me, though, once these generative tasks are on my radar to let them go until I complete the other tasks.

What if, though, we were more forward-thinking in our planning? What if we blocked out time (a realistic estimate of time) to attend to the recurring tasks that have hard deadlines and slotted in some of the more generative tasks at a more appropriate time (or season) of the semester? I have three two-week blocks of time during the semester that I know my preparation/feedback work in my courses is going to be slow. What if I organized my calendar to focus on the generative tasks during these time periods instead of trying to cram them in around the inevitable beginning of the semester tasks? There will be the inevitable unpredictable diversions, but they can be more easily absorbed into a more deliberate planning approach. Of course, I think of this every Fall about this time and fail to act on it. This time, though, I've set up some recurring tasks for each Fall semester going forward as well as the Spring and Summer. I'm hoping that in doing so, I'll be more realistic, productive, and satisfied during these busy times of the semester.

Digital commenting and grading

Over the last several years, I've tried to go as paperless as possible. For the most part I've been fairly successful. One area that has always been a challenge for me though is in devising an effective and efficient workflow for providing student comments on their work. There are certainly a number of options - comments and track changes in Microsoft Word, converting to PDF and inking up either on a desktop computer or via a stylus on a tablet. Even with one of these solutions, though, there's still the extra effort in passing files back and forth, entering grades somewhere, etc. Essentially, no matter what I've tried, I feel like I have about 5 steps too many to be really productive.

Enter BlackBoard's Inline Grading tool. While I still haven't used it in my courses yet, it seems really promising - kind of a one-stop shop for file exchange, commenting, and grading all in one. My good friend Gene Roche, the Director of Academic Information Services at William & Mary did a great post where he outlines the features. I'll follow up with some screencasts once I get my hands dirty. In the meantime, read through Gene's great post to see how it might work for you.

Digital Notetaking with OneNote

For the last two years, I've been working on the advisory board for the Microsoft Technology Enriched Instruction (TEI) project. The goal of the project is to help university faculty find ways to integrate technology in meaningful ways to support student learning and help their students develop 21st century skills. It's been a great experience for me and challenged me to more clearly think through how and why I use technology in my own teaching and scholarly pursuits. I have long been a proponent of digital notetaking tools. The ability to capture and organize ideas and access them on all my devices has provided a huge boost to my productivity and organization. For years I've been a happy Evernote user. It has been a great tool, and I've enjoyed using it. In the TEI project, however, we've been exploring some of Microsoft's tools for education and I ran across OneNote. In many ways, OneNote has a lot in common with Evernote. I'd heard of it, of course, but because I've been primarily a Mac user (there is currently no desktop app for Mac OS), I hadn't explored it in any depth.

In building this tool into our TEI workshops, I've begun to understand some distinct advantages that OneNote provides - particularly with a touch-enabled Windows device, like the Microsoft Surface. There are three primary features of OneNote that have led me to convert 5 years with of Evernote notes into my OneNote notebooks. I'll touch briefly on each of these features below coupled with some quick screencast videos of me demonstrating how they work. Even if you're a Mac user, you may want to consider these features - all of which are available for free to Mac users through Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud service.

The Metaphor

In Evernote, the primary metaphor is what they call an "everything bucket." Essentially, you can add notes, documents, Web pages, etc. into your account. You can then add tags to describe the contents of the items. One can then search using tags or with keywords. More recently, they've added the ability to create collections or notebooks of related content.

In OneNote, the whole application is designed around the metaphor of three year binder notebooks. In each notebook, you can create tabbed sections with any number of pages within each section. This type of metaphor just really appeals to me and connects with the way I think about organizing my life. Watch the video below for an overview.

OneNote - Overview of the App

Embedding Media and Web Materials

This feature set applies to both Evernote and OneNote. In either service you can embed any type of digital media into your notebooks. They also both offer a button that you can add in your Web browser to clip Web content right into your notebooks. This video will demonstrate how to add different files and Web content into your notebook.

Embedding Media and Web Clippings into OneNote

Handwriting

The killer feature of OneNote for me is the appeal to add handwritten notes and diagrams in your notes (this of course requires a touch enabled tablet or laptop). You can add handwritten text into a note and just leave it at that. You can also convert handwritten text to typed text. You can also use a combination of typed and handwritten notes. For me, this is what really encouraged me to make the move to OneNote as my notetaking app of choice. In this video, I demonstrating some of these features.

Handwriting and OneNote

There are oodles of notetaking apps available for both Windows and Mac, as well as mobile devices. OneNote has been a wonderful addition to my productivity arsenal. The key, I think, is to find the tool that best resonates with how and where you like to work.