Friday, September 29, 2006

Educause 10 days away

Because of my accident I'm going to miss the conference this year. Below are a few reflections that may be of interest heading into the conference.

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Last night I watched an old interview that Dick Cavett had with Alfred Hitchcock. I think it was on the Turner Classic Movie Channel. Of course there were many stories of the making of his movies, but also Hitchcock held forth and told anecdotes on a variety of topics. At one point he made a particularly bad pun (I recall on the word generality). Cavett dutifully gave him grief for that and Hitchcock responded, no, punning is the highest form of literature. Right on.

Earlier that day I was on campus for the first time since my accident. They had a going away party for me. It was very charming. The best part of all - the staff of my EdTech unit had written a bunch of Limericks about me that Leslie Hammersmith read aloud. I loved that. I've appropriated what they had on the internal wiki site to a Writely page so the world can see their creativity.

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Still earlier in the day I attended by phone a meeting of our advisory committee on Learning Technology and in the process of reviewing what themes might be appropriate for this year one colleague told the story that in his department he had convinced the head a couple of years ago to allocated a grad student to support instructors with use of technology in their teaching, but that allocation had been cut this year, because the resource didn't get sufficient utilization. He then went on with a familiar lament, the incentives for teaching are weak on this campus, especially regarding P&T (but also via even modest recognition, for example with a competitive small grant program). So the recommendation was for us to make some suggestions about the process by which teaching gets documented for promotion to include learning technology in that.

No doubt, instructors caring about implementing is an issue on my campus (and I'm sure it is an issue nationally) but perhaps we in the profession need to be asking ourselves whether the problem is that we're not providing the right intrinsic motivation. I believe that. And I believe that's because we've got our attention focused too much directly on the technology. Consider this alternative.

The (quiet) revolution that I would like to see is for the entire curriculum to adopt humanistic elements, the basis of which I would call Situated Story Telling. By this I mean that the story depends on the listeners as well as on the teller. The Dialogic Learning Objects approach I advocated a while back is an example of this. There are other ways to do this as well. Story telling is the key skill to promote both deep understanding of the subject and also to make overt connections between the topic being studied and and other interesting happenings going on in the world.

It seems to me that making the case for situated story telling is a lot easier sell job and more faculty will pay attention to arguments to that effect. To date, mostly I'm seeing these type of arguments coming from people like Barbara Ganley, a big time blogger who teaches writing. I love the type of arguments she makes for getting students to open up in their own blogs.

But the problem is, she teaches writing. Where are the coattails for making these arguments across other disciplines? I teach Econ. If I have my students do situated story telling (and indeed I do) then that is to learn Econ, not to learn story telling per se (though that is a fantastic byproduct). We need people to trumpet about story telling across disciplines as the way for instructors to modify their teaching. It has to happen in Engineering, in Accounting, in Food Science, in other words, everywhere, not just in courses English courses.

The technology is a wonderful instrument for students to tell and share their stories. But wonderful as it is, its still an instrument. The technology per se is less compelling, and while instructors do need to get familiar with it over time and not do too much the first time they teaching with it, encouraging instructors to put up their PowerPoints in the Learning Management System is likely sufficiently disconnected from situated story telling they they never get there in their teaching.

With the technology itself getting more mature, we proiders need to get more mature in the way we convince faculty to use the technology. I believe the above is the way to go about doing this.

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With my new job in the College of Business, one of the issues I'm vexed with is wether we will rely on campus provided applications, such as the Learning Management System (which we branded locally here as Illinois Compass) or if we need to differentiate ourself more and support our own applications.

I'm sure my campus is not the only one with this question of centralized versus unit supplied application support. The rhetoric about this has been on generic applications (which should be supplied centrally) versus specific applications that will ahe use in only some disciplines (which should be supplied by the units). The reality, as I see it, is that generic still comes in flavors and to get the favorite flavor one decentralizes, but then one loses possible scale economies from central provision.

This seems to me a big deal issue for which there has not been enough strategic thinking and, like with the case about motivating faculty to teach with technology, there has not been enough good arguments put out there for why unit proiders should opt for a centrally proided solution.

I'd really like to see some thoughtful strategic thinking on this issue.

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