Blue Sky Instructional Technology Budget

Let’s pretend for a moment that money was not part of this conversation. If you worked in instructional technology for a college or university and could implement any program or technology regardless of money (and administrative / faculty approval) what would be on your list?

Are tablets in? Or, have we decided that extra device is not necessary?

Would you start a series of discussion groups over lunch, where faculty talked about how technology did or did not help in teaching and learning?

Would you bring speakers to campus to talk about the transformative nature of technology in education, or would you offer stipends to faculty so they may redesign their courses?

I invite you to share your ideas below. Think of this as a brainstorming session and let’s see what rises to the top. 

Photo credit used under CC License.

I Like Learning, But MOOCs Are So Boring

Hi, I’m a statistic. I’m one of the many people who sign up for a MOOC, in this case, Introduction to Game Design, offered through EdX and then quit. I love learning, but it’s time to admit that MOOCs are seriously boring.

Learning Environment

I work at a computer for most of my day. Watching videos, regardless of how many scenes of a person walking and talking like it’s an episode of The West Wing, is more of me sitting at a computer. I don’t care if the videos have interviews with famous people. I’m at my computer being a passive watcher.

When you think of engaging learning environments, what comes to mind? For me, there are people. There are discussions, questions, answers. Sometimes there are lectures and sometimes there are activities. It’s a mix. I’ve had great lecture-based courses, but it’s a much different dynamic being able to interact with a person than watching a screen.


If I want to know something to help me in a programming task, I’ll use videos and hunt around online. But, if I want to learn something in-depth on a subject, I turn to books. Will a prospective employer be more impressed that I read a handful of books on technology and writing, new media, and the effect of technology on communication or that I “completed” a MOOC on said topic? Of course, I can’t ask the author questions while reading, but as a medium, books are far more engaging. Moreover, I learn better from books.

Why Aren’t MOOCs Fun?

This is the part where you respond. If you enjoy MOOCs, please share your thoughts below about why they are enjoyable and how they engage you. If, like me, you struggle with MOOCs, what is it for you that impedes the learning process?

Are Rockstar Librarians The Phil Fish of Libraries?

You’ve been known to move. Perhaps you shake. You’re emerging. Just about there. So close. So soon. Or maybe you have thousands of followers on Twitter. Someone has dubbed you a rockstar. A library rockstar. Or, maybe you dubbed yourself a rockstar. It doesn’t matter. It’s been said. However, there aren’t really famous librarians. Instead, there is library famous. You are not a rockstar. You are the Phil Fish of libraries.

 “The correct answer is C: who the hell is Phil Fish? Phil is not famous the way we are used to think about celebrities. Despite being in a movie, a documentary about video games, the average, random passerby has no idea who he is. Nor do they know John Blow, and while they’ve probably heard of Minecraft, they probably don’t know who Notch is, same for Cliff Bleszinski, same for Ken Levine. The world at large does not know or care who makes video games…Phil is sub-culturally important, not culturally important.”


Documenting Ferguson: Preserving the Protests; Remembering Michael Brown

The image was there for all to see. It proliferated online and through Twitter. There was a man, a teenager, face down in the road. There, in the median, lay Michael Brown. He’d been shot hours earlier. Continue reading “Documenting Ferguson: Preserving the Protests; Remembering Michael Brown” »

Kill the Topic Sentence

I used to hate writing. Looking back at composition classes in junior high and high school, writing had this mechanical feel, like following a recipe crafted by a mediocre cook who was more used to heating up microwave meals than using fresh ingredients. Topic sentences, thesis statements, stating the supporting points of an essay, it’s all so boring. What makes writing interesting? How do you write well? Start by committing a crime. Start by killing the topic sentence.

Air pollution in China is the worst in the world for many reasons. Fixing a flat tire on a bicycle is easy if you follow these simple steps. Scientists have learned to supplement sight in a number of ways. The center was not holding. Three of those sentences are from websites that teach writing. One of the sentences is from an essay by Joan Didion, “Slouching Toward Bethlehem.” Which of these sentences makes you want to keep on reading?

Yeah, I’m dying to learn how to easily fix a flat bike tire too. It just takes a few easy steps. The center was not holding. What center? Why isn’t it holding?

What’s more important in teaching high-school students to write: following a mechanical structure or learning that writing doesn’t have to be boring? Is the focus of high-school writing being able to pass standardized tests?1 Good writing is engaging. It’s entertaining. Good writing flows well and communicates ideas. We hear the person behind the words. Good writing takes time and practice, but it helps if you’re reading well-written essays, articles, stories and poems. Moving from the first sentence of Didion’s essay through the first two paragraphs, you’ll see what I mean.

The center was not holding. It was a country of bankruptcy notices and public-auction announcements and commonplace reports of casual killings and misplaced children and abandoned homes and vandals who misspelled the four-letter words they scrawled. It was a country in which families routinely disappeared, trailing bad checks and repossession papers. Adolescents drifted from city to torn city, sloughing off both the past and the future as snakes shed their skins, children who were never taught and would never now learn the games that had held society together. People were missing. Children were missing. Parents were missing. Those left behind filed desultory missing-persons reports, then moved on themselves.

It was not a country in open revolution. It was not a country under enemy siege. It was the United States of America in the cold late spring of 1967, and the market was steady and the G.N.P high and a great many articulate people seemed to have a sense of high social purpose and it might have been a spring of brave hopes and national promise, but it was not, and more and more people and the uneasy apprehension it was not. All that seemed clear was that at some point we had aborted ourselves and butchered the job, and because nothing else seemed so relevant I decided to go to San Francisco. San Francisco was where the social hemorrhaging was showing up. San Francisco was where the missing children were gathering and calling themselves “hippies.” When I first went to San Francisco in that cold late spring of 1967 I did not even know what I wanted to find out, and so I just around awhile, and made a few friends.2

I hadn’t meant to transcribe that much text, but how could I stop?Didion’s writing is so compelling. Should we kill the topic sentence or should we kill the boring, mechanical topic sentence? “It was not a country in open revolution,” sounds so much better than “it was not a country in open revolution for many reasons.” It’s direct. It can be built upon. It makes the reader lean closer. I used to hate writing for many reasons; now, I just hate reading bad writing.3

  1. This isn’t a rhetorical question. I’m actually curious. []
  2. First two paragraphs of Didion’s essay, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem.” []
  3. Photo credit: Taken by Karwik and used under CC []

Innovating Campus Technology in Times of Constraint

Working with technology in higher education, you’re never confronted with the problem of having too much money. Reduced staffing and budgets are widespread. In these scenarios how do IT professionals stay proactive and innovative, while trying to shoulder their current workload and/or budget lines?

An interview with Scott D. Anthony was a good place to start and I’ve copied down these takeaways.

  1. Innovation is a necessity, not a nicety. If you choose not to innovate, you’re on course to fail.
  2. Before innovating, make sure everything you currently do is operating smoothly.
  3. To start doing new things, you need to prudently stop doing some old things.
  4. Bring discipline to your innovation efforts.
  5. Open up innovation beyond your department. Include students, faculty, and other colleges. Create partnerships to share the risk.
  6. Try strategic experimentation.
  7. Expose yourself to new ambiguities / challenges.
  8. Learn outside of your discipline.
  9. Tap into your network (follow cool, random people on Twitter).

Since this blog covers both educational technology and libraries, we’ll shift the conversation to those areas. What are some services and/or products you’d like to start or experiment with? How do you envision them serving your users? And, finally, how might you get there?