TEDxUofC

It looks like the University of Calgary is planning a series of TEDx events: TEDxUofC – the first one being next week, just days after the TEDxYYC event. After previously saying I wouldn’t go to a TEDx event because of the way they’re set up, I’m happy to post that they don’t have to be […]

It looks like the University of Calgary is planning a series of TEDx events: TEDxUofC – the first one being next week, just days after the TEDxYYC event.

After previously saying I wouldn’t go to a TEDx event because of the way they’re set up, I’m happy to post that they don’t have to be that way.

Registration for TEDxUofC is open, and cheap. Students get in for $5. Everyone else gets in for $10. It doesn’t get cheaper than that. And there’s no “how awesome are you?” filter on the registration. You prove your awesomeness by showing up.

Now this is interesting. A series of focused events, each on a different topic, open to anyone who wants to come and make a difference. Sure, the speakers are selected ahead of time. Sure, the topics are selected ahead of time. That’s ok, and the way it’s set up looks like it could provide an interesting series of events.

Now, to try to arrange child care for The Boyâ„¢ twice a month, so I can head down to Hotel Alma (the new facility on the main U of C campus). Actually, I wonder if he’d like to go. He is a student, after all…

UCalgaryBlogs.ca Growth

I spent some time this afternoon poking around in the database that runs UCalgaryBlogs.ca to see if I could get a better sense of how it’s growing. Turns out, it’s growing MUCH faster than I thought it was (and I thought it was growing pretty darned fast). It’s still pretty small scale, compared with giants […]

I spent some time this afternoon poking around in the database that runs UofCBlogs.ca to see if I could get a better sense of how it’s growing. Turns out, it’s growing MUCH faster than I thought it was (and I thought it was growing pretty darned fast).

ucalgaryblogs_growth

It’s still pretty small scale, compared with giants like WordPress.com and Edublogs.org, but the growth looks pretty much exponential. I’m glad we’ve got lots of room to scale this puppy. And that campus IT isn’t upset with growing demands on database resources.

UCalgaryBlogs.ca Redesign

I’ve been meaning to redesign the main site at UCalgaryBlogs.ca for awhile now – the Edublogs Clean theme isn’t intended to be dropped in as a stock theme, but as a starting point for hacking something tailor-made. The Edu-Clean theme is available as part of the fantastic Premium WPMUDev subscription – and it certainly helped […]

I’ve been meaning to redesign the main site at UofCBlogs.ca for awhile now – the Edublogs Clean theme isn’t intended to be dropped in as a stock theme, but as a starting point for hacking something tailor-made. The Edu-Clean theme is available as part of the fantastic Premium WPMUDev subscription – and it certainly helped me get UofCBlogs.ca off the ground quickly.

Edu-Clean has bugged me because it hijacks the front page by using home.php, rather than using a page template to render the front page. The annoying part of this technique is that it makes it difficult to list blog posts within that site – so news updates posted on the main blog only show up on the “latest posts” widget, and then disappear from sight when they roll off the bottom of the widget.

And, the Edu-Clean theme, while looking fantastic and being very well designed and polished, is really just the Edublogs theme. So, my straight reuse of the graphics and styles was a bit confusing (I had a couple people mention “oh, that’s edublogs. I know that.” – um. no. it’s not, but it’s using the same theme… confusing…)

So, today I decided to sit down and hack the best parts of Edu-Clean out, and graft them into a copy of the sweet and flexible Carrington theme.

I’ll post a description of what I did, why, and where, but for now it’s basically working. It’s still very much a work in progress (I’m thinking it’s a little busy, but I like the focus on community, content and function rather than marketing). The other nice thing that the use of page templates allows is the WordPress front page setting – I can set the front page to be rendered by a static template, and set the “real” blog to be displayed at another page on the blog – Site News, for example. Much better, IMO.

Here’s the previous design, powered by the elegant Edu-Clean theme:

And the redesign, based on Carrington:

I’m certainly no designer, but I like that the featured content is right up front, rather than marketing info about the service. It’s also much easier to spot the login info (if not logged in) and stuff you can do (list of your blogs, etc…) without having to scroll down.

I’ll be tweaking it, but I think it’s a keeper.

Walking tour of University of Calgary Campus

Back in the heady early days of podcasting – all the way back in 2005 – one of the first use cases of the technology was to create “walking tours” where a narrator could guide students through a tour of an area. When video podcasting became possible, it would make the guided tours more effective […]

Back in the heady early days of podcasting – all the way back in 2005 – one of the first use cases of the technology was to create “walking tours” where a narrator could guide students through a tour of an area. When video podcasting became possible, it would make the guided tours more effective because you could show supplemental or orienteering images to support the narration.

Fast forward to 2008, and the TLC just produced a walking tour of the U of C campus, featuring Julie Walker, a naturalist and hiking guide with the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre.

Grab a copy, drop it on your iPod (or PSP, or cell phone, or laptop, or cough Zune) and follow along with Julie as she guides you across campus.

University of Calgary Walking Tour

Leslie Reid on team projects in large classes

I had the distinct pleasure of introducing Dr. Leslie Reid this morning, for her presentation “Creating Team Projects that Work in Large Classes: Redesigning a Large Science ‘Service’ Course” – part of the Teaching & Learning Centre’s 10th anniversary series of presentations. She talks about her experience in redesigning a large class (300 students with […]

I had the distinct pleasure of introducing Dr. Leslie Reid this morning, for her presentation “Creating Team Projects that Work in Large Classes: Redesigning a Large Science ‘Service’ Course” – part of the Teaching & Learning Centre’s 10th anniversary series of presentations. She talks about her experience in redesigning a large class (300 students with 13 weeks of lectures) into a format based on group projects (250 students with 6 weeks of lectures and 6 weeks of group work).

The video recording of the presentation is just over an hour long, and includes some questions from some of the faculty members in attendance. I recorded the session with my little Flip Ultra camera, and it did a surprisingly good job.

Syndicating and republishing decentralized content with WordPress

I was going to write up a post describing how to use the cool FeedWordPress plugin for WordPress to syndicate external content into a blog, and republish it in the context of a class or group. But, of course, Jim Groom has beaten me to the punch, and done a much more thorough job of […]

I was going to write up a post describing how to use the cool FeedWordPress plugin for WordPress to syndicate external content into a blog, and republish it in the context of a class or group. But, of course, Jim Groom has beaten me to the punch, and done a much more thorough job of documenting the process than I would/could have done. So, yet again, I’ll just refer to Jim’s work. What I can do is provide a demonstrating workflow to show how FeedWordPress could be used to pull content from one blog into others in the context of a group, project, or class.

Take, for instance, this post I wrote back in July about the Learning Community for Blogging and Student Publishing. It’s published to my blog, and stored in my own outboard brain. But it’s not presented in the context of the University of Calgary.

What about my campus blog at dlnorman.ucalgaryblogs.ca? Should I copy and paste the post there, because it relates to UofC? Nope. I’ve just enabled FeedWordPress on that blog, and anything I publish to my “main” blog using the tag “ucalgary” will automatically get republished on my campus blog.

What about the Learning Communities blog? That post would also be useful to the participants in the project, and I’m not about to expect or compel them all to subscribe to my blog. So I just configured FeedWordPress to pull the “learning communities” feed from my “main” blog and republish posts to the Learning Communities blog.

FeedWordPress in action

FeedWordPress in action

This gives some pretty easy flexibility – I don’t have to manually republish things into various community resources, and I don’t have to make anyone subscribe to anything they don’t want to. If a one-stop-shopping type of resource is useful for a community (class, group, department, etc…) then why break that? Just use syndication and republishing to get the best of both worlds – decentralized publishing and centralized contextualization.

This process also gets around the hassle and confusion of republishing content. I’ve never wanted to publish to any place other than my own blog. I’ve never accepted invitations to write for other blogs. If I want to write something, I’ll publish to my blog. But, with automated syndication and republishing via tag-based feeds, it becomes trivial to allow content to flow into various other blogs and websites where it might be beneficial.

There is one wrinkle in the love fest that is FeedWordPress. Although it can suck categories and tags from items in an RSS feed and put them into categories in the receiving WordPress blog – it doesn’t currently create tags. It just adds category after category after category. Which works, but is messy. Hopefully a future revision of the plugin properly groks the category/tags distinction…

Finally, this post is tagged with “ucalgary” but not “learning communities” so I know it will automagically appear on my campus blog, but not the Learning Communities project blog. And I won’t have to do anything else to make that happen. Very cool stuff.

Learning Community – Blogging and Student Publishing

We held our first gathering of the “Blogging and Student Publishing” learning community last week. It was a small, informal gathering – only a handful of profs were able to make it due to summer schedules, and another handful of staff. I think the small group was actually a very good thing for a first […]

We held our first gathering of the “Blogging and Student Publishing” learning community last week. It was a small, informal gathering - only a handful of profs were able to make it due to summer schedules, and another handful of staff. I think the small group was actually a very good thing for a first gathering, though, as the conversation was extremely engaging and dynamic - something that may have been lost in a larger group. What I loved about this gathering, is that we were able to reproduce much of the vibe from the Social Software Salon event held a couple of years ago at UBC. I’m hoping to to much more of this kind of thing, to get faculty members together and properly caffeinated in order to get the conversations flowing.

We talked about many things, but I think the common thread was that this is really not about “blogging” or even technology. It’s about what happens when students are publishing their own content, and collaborating with each other. What does that mean for assessment? How do you properly engage a class of 100 (or more?) students, having them all publish content, exploring various topics, commenting, thinking critically, and still be able to make sense of that much activity?

Since we stepped back a bit from technology, we defined student publishing more broadly, to also include such things as discussion boards and wikis.

We talked a bit about blogging as an ePortfolio activity - that it may be effective for students to publish various bits of content through their blog(s) and then to let it percolate and filter until the “best” stuff is distilled into what is essentially an ePortfolio - and maybe THAT’s the artifact that gets assessed. The activity through the blogs is important, but every student will participate in a different way. Maybe it would be a valuable thing to even make blogging itself an optional thing - but those who don’t participate will have had less feedback and refinement of their ePortfolio artifacts.

I gave a quick demo of the eduglu prototype site to show some of the strategies could be used to make the workload more manageable - social filtering of content within the site, organic groups based on projects and topics, etc… There was a fair amount of interest in those ideas, and I’ll be refining the prototype over the summer.

We’re going to be having learning community gatherings on a regular basis - I’m hoping to have more faculty come out to the August event (date TBD), and have it keep growing from there.

I’m also starting work on a learning community around mobile learning (mobile devices as a platform for teaching and learning), and another on course design (to tie in with our ISW and FTC programmes here at the TLC).

My next immediate task for the learning communities project is to polish off the community hub website - which will provide a place for coordinating the various communities, as well as providing a way for faculty and staff to identify and create their own communities.

Links discussed during the gathering:

on learning communities

I’ve been working on organizing a project I’ve called “Learning Communities” here at UCalgary. It’s still a bit amorphous, but that’s actually part of the plan. What I’m going to do is offer resources and support to any communities on campus so that they can effectively get together and share what they’re doing. I’ll facilitate […]

I’ve been working on organizing a project I’ve called “Learning Communities” here at UofC. It’s still a bit amorphous, but that’s actually part of the plan. What I’m going to do is offer resources and support to any communities on campus so that they can effectively get together and share what they’re doing. I’ll facilitate meetings, find guest speakers, search for resources, organize presentations, or whatever else is needed for these communities to share the interesting things they’re doing (or want to be doing) on campus.

The project has been directly inspired by two existing projects that have been extremely successful. First, is Cole Camplese’s really amazing Community Hubs project at Penn State. The PSU ETS team has rolled out support for 13 communities that have been identified (so far) across the various PSU campuses. The communities share resources in both face-to-face sessions, and through the website created by ETS just for that community. Support and services are provided as needed. And, the activities culminate as sessions in the annual TLT Symposium conference at PSU. I haven’t been lucky enough to attend one of the Symposia, but from all accounts they sound like incredibly powerful events that solidify the physical and tangible sense of community, resulting in a highly effective professional development programme for PSU faculty and staff.

The other primary inspiration has been Jennifer Jones‘ work with Viral Professional Development at Bellingham Technical College. This is an equally inspiring project, where resources are provided and shared, and the professional development activities are really run by the faculty members themselves through a series of “play and learn” sessions. Instructors play with new tools, discuss pedagogy and techniques, and explore together in a safe environment before trying what they’ve learned in their own classes. By putting the faculty members themselves in the driver’s seats, Jen has been able to model and reinforce some amazingly powerful strategies - with a very strong pull from the grassroots levels of the institution.

So, how have these two radically different projects inspired what I’m trying to set up here at UofC? I really want to borrow heavily from the PSU model, where resources and support are offered to a wide variety of communities. I love that these communities are primarily face-to-face, and that the discussions are extended through websites provided by ETS. And the annual TLT Symposium is definitely something I’m going to try to get going here as well - taking the learning communities and providing them a showcase to gather and share not only with each other but with others who may be interested.

And, I want to take the grassroots and viral nature of Jen’s VPD work, and try to scale that across a fairly sizable campus. The most direct way I’m going to try this is by not predefining the communities. I’m going to handpick one or two just to get things going, but will work hard to make it easy for faculty members (and staff, and grad students, and possibly others) to identify, create, organize and join their own learning communities on any topic. And I’ll work hard to find resources to support all of these communities. Ideally, these communities will be about more than just technology - I’d love to see learning communities form around topics such as “large enrollment classes” and “storytelling” - with several technology-related topics also forming. I’m hoping to keep things extremely flexible, open, and organic, so there may be overlap between various communities (technologically and/or pedagogically).

Is it going to be successful? It’s way too early to tell. It could fly like a lead balloon. But, I think it’s important to try to put as much of an effort into providing effective professional development for our faculty as is possible, so it’s worth a shot.

Michael Geist – Why Copyright?

Michael Geist gave a talk at The University of Calgary on April 2, 2008, on the subject of copyright. He talked about the need for Fair Dealings, the dangers of the Canadian DMCA, and even touched on the benefits of open access and even open education. Dr. Geist’s presentation was very compelling, interesting, and engaging. I […]

Michael Geist - Why Copyright? - 6Michael Geist gave a talk at The University of Calgary on April 2, 2008, on the subject of copyright. He talked about the need for Fair Dealings, the dangers of the Canadian DMCA, and even touched on the benefits of open access and even open education.

Dr. Geist’s presentation was very compelling, interesting, and engaging. I believe he was able to communicate the benefits of less-restrictive copyright, and am hoping he helped plant some seeds to get an open content movement going here at The University of Calgary.

The video was recorded by Paul Pival, who used his very handy MacBook iSight Inverter Mirror to properly record the session without having to snap the lid off of his laptop. The sound was recorded by a microphone placed on the floor near the podium, so hopefully it didn’t turn out too badly. I thought it was interesting that an event like this wasn’t “officially” recorded, and it was trivially done by an attendee bringing a laptop to the session. The days of requiring enterprise support for event recording and broadcasting are over.