Learner-Shaped Technology

April 25, 2020

An unplanned semester online:

Filed under: general — Mike W @ 4:22 pm

Like my students, I’m struggling with the shift to online. I’ve used screencasts (short recorded lectures) previously, but I’m re-evaluating. I like them because they are a compact way of sharing content and context. Most are in the 7 – 20 minute range. But here are the challenges:

1. Time to produce – I know it’s hard to believe, but this one took me about 4 hours to a) get the data wrangled 2) put together an outline 3) record, and 4) edit. So I, either suck at this, or my experience is indicative of other instructors’ experience. I’m open to the former.


2. Time in-class vs. online lecture – This would have taken 2x the time to discuss in class. The presentation wouldn’t have been as tight, and student questions/discussions would have extended the time. But is that “time gain” a good thing, or indicative that something is missing online?

3. Lecturing to no one – You might hear it in my voice, but it’s hard to lecture to an imagined audience. I try to envision my students, and I’ve even stood up to produce the screencast with more energy, but recreating the in-person experience is tough. I miss them.

4. The long term – I think I can use these screencasts, which are primarily information dissemination and demonstrations, to make space in my class for more interaction and discussion. However, that’s going to have to happen in person, or it’s one more thing to figure out how to do online. Zoom breakout groups are great, but are they the same thing as in-person discussions?

Some questions:

  1. Do you find that developing screencasts is worth the time?
  2. A similar, live lecture via Zoom is going to take longer, but is the interactivity worth it?
  3. How do you use short screencasts to make room for my interactivity during synchronous meetings, whether online or in-person?
  4. What went well online this semester? What were the challenges?

March 24, 2020

Lessons from 1918

Filed under: general — Tags: , , — Mike W @ 9:01 pm

After reading this article about how different cities handled the 1918-19 flu pandemic, I decided to get the data graph it. You can see the impact, and the result of St. Louis and San Francisco letting their guard down too early—despite stronger responses in the early phases.  It appears SF likely overestimated the effectiveness of masks in preventing the spread of this particular virus.

I realize the that virus and Covid-19 are different, but perhaps there’s still a lesson to be learned from history.

Philadelphia (1918) – It’s just like the regular flu. Just keep your feet dry and your bowels open. We’re not canceling the parade.

St. Louis (1918) – This is serious. Avoid crowds. Treat people in their homes if possible. Act early.

San Francisco (1918) – This is serious. Implement social distancing. Wear masks.  

Data source below:

Collins, S. D., Frost, W. H., Gover, M., & Sydenstricker, E. (1930). Mortality from influenza and pneumonia in 50 large cities of the United States, 1910-1929. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Michigan Publishing, University Library, University of Michigan.

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.

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