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.

EduGlu / Social:Learn Meetup?

Scott threw a suggestion onto Twitter this morning that has been percolating for a few hours. It just hit me. CANHEIT is here at UCalgary in June. I can arrange meeting space here on campus. If anyone’s interested in a face-to-face Eduglu/Social:Learn/Web 2.0 in higher ed meetup, how does The University of Calgary in June 2008 sound? […]

Scott threw a suggestion onto Twitter this morning that has been percolating for a few hours.

It just hit me. CANHEIT is here at UofC in June.

I can arrange meeting space here on campus. If anyone’s interested in a face-to-face Eduglu/Social:Learn/Web 2.0 in higher ed meetup, how does The University of Calgary in June 2008 sound? Maybe Thursday June 19th? Something during the conference proper? The week before or after? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Update: After some gentle prodding from Scott, I realize that an incrementalist approach, which is what a CANHEIT session would be, is not sufficient. We need to kick out the jams in ways that wouldn’t be possible in the context of CANHEIT - even if the session was before or after the conference, it would be coloured by Commercial Enterprise IT agenda. Wrong.

I’m withdrawing my offer to host a CANHEIT session, in favour of a standalone event wherever - it could still be at UofC if that works out, but it sounds like things would be much more radical and powerful if we were able to impose on Brian’s hospitality at UBC:OLT.

Recipe for building a Drupal-powered blogging community website

I worked with our Faculty of Education to build a community blogging website for use by after-degree student teachers as part of their personal/professional development, reflection, and collaboration process, as well as to collect materials for use in ePortfolios. They had a set of pretty simple constraints. Because the student teachers would be writing about […]

I worked with our Faculty of Education to build a community blogging website for use by after-degree student teachers as part of their personal/professional development, reflection, and collaboration process, as well as to collect materials for use in ePortfolios. They had a set of pretty simple constraints. Because the student teachers would be writing about activities in the K-12 classroom, and likely would be posting media (photos, videos, etc…) they needed to restrict access to the site - there could be no public access to this content. Additionally, they needed to control with a fairly fine granularity which individuals within the community would be able to see specific pieces of content. Because of these constraints, we couldn’t just load up WPMU and set them free, nor could we just point them to WordPress.com or Blogger.com. What to do…

Drupal, of course. It’s got a blogging module available out of the box (it takes a checkbox to enable it). OK. Blogging is taken care of. Members just have to click “Create content” and select “Blog post”. Easy peasey.

Want to allow members of the community to create their own groups? Organic Groups. It’s amazingly flexible, and has an added bonus, in this case, of also enabling access control to content based on group membership (after enabling Organic Groups, go to the settings page for the module and enable “Access Control”). Meaning that the student teachers could create as many private group contexts as they like, and then grant access to their content to any of their groups (and only those groups) if desired. Very powerful stuff.

OK. So now we have a bunch of student teachers blogging their brains out. That’s a lot of content to keep track of. Their professors and practicum teachers need to keep up on all of the relevant posts, and provide feedback in a timely manner. How to provide tools to let individuals track content that they’re allowed to see, that they haven’t seen yet, and that they need to respond to… Views. Drupal’s Views module is killer for this. It’s basically a database query generator, where you can provide a set of criteria to filter content, and create a display on the website. So I created a couple of handy views to help people keep up.

The first view was a simple “all content that has been posted to any of your groups, sorted in reverse chronological order” - this is the “river of news” display, which meant that members didn’t have to go hunting through their various groups (some had over a dozen group memberships) to find new content. It’s all merged, sorted, and presented to them on the front page of the site. This let members keep their fingers on the pulse of the community - they could see at a glance what was being published in all of the groups they cared about. This view also displayed the number of comments (and any new comments were flagged) so people could easily follow up on conversations.

The second view was intended to help members keep up with new content - essentially an “inbox” to be used by professors and teachers. This view was a clone of the first “river of news” view, but only displayed unread items. As a professor viewed a blog post, it would get dropped out of this view for them.

We also used the Book module to create documentation on the site (how to use the site, as well as pages with links to other resources, an FAQ, etc…) and we enabled the Forum module to create a separate non-blog discussion board within the site (but this never really got used much…)

That’s really all there is to it - Drupal just handles the rest, and once it’s configured it takes very little care and feeding.

Here’s the stuff we used (the site was built a year ago on Drupal 4.7, but I’m listing what would be used as of the current Drupal 5.3):

I’ll try to revise this post to clarify stuff as needed, but this is the basic recipe. The best thing to do is just start downloading and playing…