Learner-Shaped Technology

October 9, 2015

GIS and Social Justice

Filed under: data visualization,gis,history,mapping — Mike W @ 10:18 am

At a recent faculty gathering on community engagement, I was asked to provide some examples of how Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is being used to support different social justice initiatives. While there are many examples, I didn’t have much time to share, so I highlighted just a few compelling examples, which are shown below.

If you’re interested in learning more about GIS and social justice, these resources are a great place to start, although I find the inequity that the maps reveal to be very disheartening.

New Orleans

New Orleans, LA from Business Insider – http://www.businessinsider.com/most-segregated-cities-census-maps-2013-4?op=1

  1. The Revolution Will Be Mapped – This article gives an overview and describes some recent cases in which maps played a key role in highlighting discriminatory practices in the provision of public services.
  2. Redlining Maps –If you click on an area, especially those in red, you can see the disturbing (stunning, actually) area descriptions–circa 1930.
  3. Million Dollar Blocks – NPR highlighted the Justice Mapping Center’s work on visually representing incarceration rates and costs. Million dollar blocks are “areas where more than $1 million is being spent annually to incarcerate the residents of a single census block.” The maps are being used to identify areas for establishment of re-entry programs. You can check out data for Greenville County by zip code and census block here. Click on the state, then the county for details.
  4. Maps of Highly Segregated Cities – Each map provides a dissimilarity index. “A score above 60 on the dissimilarity index is considered very high segregation.” The symbology is very powerful. For New Orleans, you can clearly see the high elevation area along the river that geographer Richard Campanella refers to as the “white teapot.”
  5. Underbounding – I happened upon this term while doing a little research for the session. This is a practice by which certain groups (usually poor minorities) are excluded from annexation and associated services.
  6. Dividing Lines: School Districts in the US – This map shows how current educational funding practices limit fair access.
  7. Social Explorer – Our library is currently evaluating a subscription to Social Explorer, which should make it much easier to use the browser to map demographic data going all the way back to the 1790 Census. No desktop software required.

December 19, 2012

Highlights from the Future of Higher Education Forum

Image made available via CC license @ http://www.flickr.com/photos/feuilllu/5309422823/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Dan Cohen’s comments in the latest installment of the Digital Campus podcast prodded me to check out footage from George Mason University’s recent Forum on the Future of Higher Education.  I wanted to link to and highlight a few snippets that really resonated. A few notes:

*I have to admit that Dan jokingly referring to some of the discussion as being Jerry-Springer-like piqued my interest.  The discussion is actually very civil, and I appreciate Dan’s thoughtful skepticism.

*I haven’t watched all the footage. I saw individuals in the videos whose work I was familiar with (Dan Cohen, Bob Beichner, and Bryan Alexander) and tended to focus on their comments and responses to their insights.

*The video links in the titles below should take you to the appropriate spot in the conversation.  I make note of the time when the discussion shifts and you may want to stop and move on to the next snippet.

1. Context and Learning Environments:  (stop at 33:50) –  I like Dan’s focus on the university’s role in scaffolding and contextualizing information and reminding us that most learners need help with this.  Instructors as designers.

2. Measuring ‘Learning’ and Assessment:  (stop at 16:40) – Dan reminds us that focus on assessment (especially the easy to measure stuff) and learner analytics doesn’t paint a complete picture–not even close. He argues that a university also provides an environment for unexpected outcomes and ways of thinking—aspects of education that don’t lend themselves to tidy measurement.  This reminds me of a recent podcast by Freakonomics contributor Stephen Dubner in which he discusses lessons he uses everyday in his work with the professors who inspired the practice (even if they don’t remember the moment of inspiration!).

3. Student-Centered Instruction: (stop at 8:30) – Bob Beichner describes the SCALE-UP project at NC State, which utilizes problem-based-learning in large intro courses, and he shares how it’s working.  This design is being implemented at many schools across the country, including at nearby Clemson University. The model is adaptable to smaller classes.  Some classrooms would need some serious retrofitting to make this model possible, but it’s worth it.

4. Extending the Model Beyond STEM disciplines (stop at 1:04:45) – Bob shares how the SCALE-UP model can be used across disciplines. I really like how his example covers the entire learning cycle and mixes team and individual work.  Bryan Alexander compares technology use in the sciences and humanities.

5. MOOCs—It’s Complicated:  (stop at 41:35)  – Bryan provides a great overview of the different types of MOOCs, MOOC business models, and how colleges might leverage resources from MOOCs on campus. He also contextualizes several instructional technologies on the Gardner hype cycle.  Ah, the trough of disillusionment.


December 5, 2012

Robert Zemeckis and Ed Tech

Filed under: design,education,technology — Mike W @ 5:51 pm

I listened to an interview with Flight director Robert Zemeckis during my run last night.  This part (transcript from NPR’s Fresh Air) sure reminded me of our approach to educational technology sometimes.

CC licensed image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/vox/276882153/

DAVIES: Do you think digital technology has sort of fundamentally changed moviemaking, I mean, even in films that really don’t involve special effects?

ZEMECKIS: Oh, yeah. But that’s because every new – everything always did, from day one. I mean, you know, you can go back and see how, you know, we – they – in the final years of the silent cinema, where the art of cinema, of storytelling was so magnificent. And then when they invented the microphone and sound, everything got really static, and it all had to be reinvented again, and the same when color came in. And when the invented the steady cam, every movie had a chase up and down a staircase, you know.

So what we do with these technologies is we overuse them and we call attention to them, because they’re just so much fun to have. And then we learn how to use them in the way that all tools of cinema should be used, which is to make them invisible. So now I don’t think you can even tell when a director is using a steady cam. If he’s really good at his job, the camera movement won’t call attention to itself.

So, yeah, I think that, you know, some of the digital stuff that we’re doing now, especially in editing, I find that we’re – there’s editing for what I call no reason. You know, we just edit to edit. And I think we do that in films now because we can. But we’ll get that out of our system and, you know, and then something else will be there that’ll be the new technology of the month.

November 20, 2012

The Flipped Classroom: Traps and Before the Lecture

Filed under: blended-learning,design,education,flipped-classroom,technology — Mike W @ 3:27 pm

Take a minute to reflect on some of your biggest teaching fails.  Many of my in-class fails started this way:

“Today I’m going to talk about . . . “

No context.  No student experience on which to build.  Plummeting energy in the room (including my own) . . .

Are we on our way to reproducing this experience online with the flipped classroom?

As I read more examples about how instructors are implementing flipped classrooms, I’m actually very encouraged that this can be done to optimize class time together for deeper student learning. Derek Bruff has a great post and supporting visuals that describe the flipped approach and more importantly the inherent traps.

“The lecture video portion of the flipped classroom approach gets a lot of attention because it’s the piece that involves shiny new technologies, but it’s the pedagogy that drives the flipped classroom, not the technology.  If all you’re doing is posting lecture videos online, you’re not flipping your classroom and, more importantly, you’re missing out on the learning opportunities the full model provides.”

A complex visualization, such as this one from the online comic xkcd can serve as a first exposure or student experience.

I want to build on this idea of traps inherent in the flipped system. Assuming ‘first exposure’ = ‘content delivery’ makes the trap potentially more insidious.  This assumption is likely to lead to mimicking the mistake above, only this time, online.  In this case, it’s actually worse. The instructor is far removed from the vacant stares of the students and unable to make mid-class corrections (like asking questions and bringing student experience back to the forefront).  A misunderstanding of the flipped design, coupled with technology, not only encourages but hides design flaws—a dangerous combination.  To overcome these challenges, we need to consider important steps that come before ‘first exposure’ or rethink what first exposure really means (something other than content-heavy lecture).

So what comes before the online lecture?  I’ll start with an in-person example. I co-led a GIS in the Humanities workshop with Sean Connin (Trinity University) and Alex Chaucer (Skidmore College) in which Alex facilitated a discussion about several key concepts in Yi-Fu Tuan’s Space and Place.  His session was a great example of designing around the ‘lead-with-content’ trap. Alex could have lectured about the concepts, but instead, he asked us to spend a few minutes visiting the streets of our childhood using Google Earth street view as well as the interactive Wilderness Downtown website. He posed several questions for reflection before the discussion and introduction of new concepts from the book. The experience was powerful and led to deeper understanding. The brief activity helped us contextualize and draw on previous experience (and emotion!), so the subsequent lecture and discussion had purpose. Alex not only provided a compelling hook, but the design helped us situate new ideas within previous experiences because he had so effectively activated our prior learning.

As we create flipped experiences for students, we’re bound to have a laser-like focus on the quality of the recorded lectures, making it easy to lose sight of the importance of contextualizing those lectures—either within the lecture itself or with activities beforehand. The best pre-lecture activities leave students perplexed and wanting to know more, but also help them situate what’s to come with what they’ve already learned.  Maybe the experience unravels a misconception. Perhaps it oversimplifies a complex topic and encourages the student to develop probing questions. I’m a big fan of Marilla Svinicki’s (1987) call for using the Kolb Learning Cycle as a model for designing instruction.  In that model, experience and reflection precede concept development (often a big component of lecture), so the model serves as a good visual reminder to help us avoid traps.  As her article points out, experience can come in many forms (reading, simulations, observation, evaluating a visualization, etc.).  Careful design, with balanced guidance, is key to purposeful exploration, rather than aimless wandering.

The RadioLab podcast is another great example of this design, and they’re just using audio! Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich are masters at using stories to develop complex ideas, skillfully weaving process and content.  I mapped their show on randomness (stochasticity) onto the learning cycle.

Radiolab podcast mapped onto the learning cycle.

I doubt they had the learning cycle in mind when designing the show, but their online “lecture” about randomness doesn’t really begin until after they’ve provided the listener with an experience (a story of the two Lauras) and an opportunity to reflect on the story.  They even throw in an additional coin flipping experience to boot before moving on to the idea that, “Real randomness when you see it, just doesn’t feel random enough.“

I think it’s somewhat natural for teachers to activate experience and provide opportunities for students to reflect and situate new ideas in the physical classroom.  I’m not sure this is so natural online.  So as we look at the flow of the ‘flipped classroom’ let’s add an element right at the beginning—student experience and reflection. This way, passive information reception isn’t the students’ first exposure.  When I think about the flipped classroom movement, I’m both wary and excited. There are some serious traps; however, executed with design at the forefront, the opportunities are vast.  We certainly have our work cut out for us.  Not only do we have to provide information online in a compelling way, but we have to design student experiences that make the content meaningful. Oh, and then there’s the business of designing in-class activities.

Feedback welcome!

Thanks to Diane Boyd for her comments on the draft of this post.  Many of the ideas in this post gelled as a result of preparing for a conference presentation with colleague Jeremy Donald.  A post-presentation debrief over spicy Thai food helped even more.  Thanks Jeremy!

Update:  After authoring this post, I caught up with my feed reading and realized Dan Meyer had also emphasized putting something BEFORE the online lecture to activate students’ intellectual need.  I’m happy to be on the same page as Dan Meyer and others (see comments), even if it means my observation isn’t as original as I first thought!

Svinicki, M. D., & Dixon, N. M. (1987). The Kolb model modified for classroom activities. College Teaching, 35(4), 141–146.

August 2, 2012

YoU(lysses): A Better MOOC?

Filed under: blended-learning,books,digital humanities,twitter — Mike W @ 11:32 am

Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses has been on my bucket list for several years; however, everything I’ve heard and read about the novel has left me hesitant to embark on the journey alone.  Now I’ve found some help.  Check out the Modernist Versions Project’s Year of Ulysses.  The website provides a schedule for reading, serial chapter releases of the original, online lectures, and periodic twitter discussions of the book.  So far, I’ve been keeping up with the reading and lectures, and I’ve found it really useful to have some additional background (and help!).  I initially read the PDF version of the releases but later found it more productive to read the free iBooks version, since it has an inline dictionary.  The reading pace outlined on the site is very reasonable, so I don’t have to abandon my other, lighter reading. This seems like a great model and somewhat more interactive than a traditional MOOC.

I’ve also enjoyed Jenny Colvin’s blog posts about her experience reading Ulysses. Jenny was kind enough to gift me some audible credits to get the audio version of the book.  Thanks Jenny! My plans are to revisit chapters I’ve read on a long run (once my achilles heals—kind of ironic).

Some bass-driven inspiration:

Nick Cave’s Night of the Lotus Eaters
Franz Ferdinand’s Ulysses

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/48957186@N06/6940825627/

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