Teaching and Learning


The WOPR, the fictional military supercomputer featured in the film War Games. It was given the job of monitoring nuclear missile silos after too many Air Force missileers refused to launch during a live fire exercise. They figured it would be better to let a supercomputer oversee nuclear apocalypse – let the technology do the job and keep the messy, creative, interrogating types out of this!

Sadly the-powers-that-be are beguiled by their absolute trust in the artificially intelligent computer, forgetting that the computer’s code is written by people and there is an ethics to algorithms.

This thinking is sadly what I believe is driving a set of supercomputer styled MOOCs to build a WOPR for higher education. Figuring that if we put enough processor power behind the education problem we’ll solve it. Those teachers, we can’t trust them?! They might not make the right assessment at the moment when real learning is to happen! They’re flawed – god knows they’re all unionized!

I’m so dismayed about how the dominant coversation about MOOCs looks nothing like what I first discovered less than two years ago, which emphasized the opportunities the interent provided to create communities. Instead it’s been replaced by the cold-war thinking WOPR. A machine that looks to the traditional model of higher ed – structured course timelines, traditional lectures (in 5-10 min bites revolutionary!), and yes of course quizes, tests and final exams.

I just wish the supercomputer MOOCs would get to the end of the War Games narrative already – just ask the MOOC to play itself. They’d realize that they’re only building an arsenal of educational weapons that fulfills only their mutually assured pedigreed awesomeness. They don’t really care about what higher education really looks like, instead they want to assure us all that they’ve got higher education’s future under control, the old models are still right, we just need to scale them.

But that’s a strange game. And the only winning move is not to play.

Suessing Ethiopia

During class today we began discussing the remix generator and remix cards as part of this week’s assignments. I created the example, “What Is Culture For You?? [Remixed]: Dr Suess It,” and under the original assignment I found Mis-tery’s trip to Ethiopia. I would have loved to read more about the trip, as it looks like it was quite an experience, and the photos she shared in a collage were beautiful.

Applying the Dr Suess It card to the culture assignment seems a natural one as you are able to apply all the trappings of the Suess genre to someone’s cultural expression. The travel experience becomes Suess-ified not unlike a trip to the Magic Kingdom. The different places in Mis-tery’s trip became Suess attractions – pose as the Cat-in-th-Hat, visit a real Truffala tree forest, follow the path of ‘Oh the Places You’ll Go,’ and see original Suess art work in the museum.

All fun stuff that I hope Mis-tery enjoys. Thanks for letting me remix your work!

GIFing a Great Conversation About EPortfolio

I made a presentation today about eportfolio and assessment for York College’s annual day of assessment conference. The problem was I showed up with a conversation about eportfolio and a bunch of animated GIFs (see below) and everyone else showed up with graphs, charts, and numbers.

When my colleague asked me to talk to faculty about eportfolio/assessment I was a bit torn. First, I haven’t been working on eportfolios at York for some time as the piloted platform, built on WP/BP has been under-supported rendering the space unusable (resurrection notice Boone to the rescue). And second I’ve grown a little ambivalent about one of the principal driving forces behind campuses considering adopting eporfolios, which is ASSESSMENT.

With trepidation, I decided that it might be interesting to foster a conversation with my faculty about eportfolio by looking at a rich conversation started by Martha Burtis on her blog. She described her role supporting UMW’s effort to choose an eportfolio platform on her campus. Martha decided to ask her community of peers for feedback. What resulted was a great thread of comments, and I thought they would be good foder for my presentation.

I pulled a number of interesting quotes and used a number of GIFs to support the talk. Here’s a basic summary of what I presented:

At the start I quoted Martha’s mission to find/create an eportfolio platform which would support the following,

  • An interest in a system for tracking institutional assessment learning outcomes (on program-, departmental-, and the University-level) and reporting on these otucomes.
  • A space for meta-cognitive reflection by students on their learning, perhaps as part of a larger look at how we advise students.
  • A desire to provide students with a “leg-up” by giving them a robust platform for showcasing their intellectual and professional work and development.
  • A need (specifically in the College of Education) to track student outcomes BEYOND graduation. New laws are requiring us to demonstrate the effectiveness of our students as teachers after they’ve graduated (for a indeterminate amount of time)

The eportfolio elephant in the room is/was the assessment piece. Literally there’s an administrative mandate that loomed over the decision making process.

Boone Georges followed up, and made a great point about how this top down mandate is problematic.

Systems can only succeed in their “institutional” goals (like assessment and alumni connections) if they succeed in their “curricular” goals (genuine student engagement with the platform).

Then Todd Conaway did a little edu-kungfu by substituting the word “students” with “teachers” in the eportfolio goals statement above. Which was a provocation that Martha summarized well as a need to get faculty to “walk the walk” when it comes to reflection and sharing.

Joe Ugoretz introduced his struggles with using eportfolios for assessment, believing that universalizing a set of criteria to measure the success of each student is problematic, if it misses the value of uniqueness.

I’m suggesting I think an assessment that includes individuality, that celebrates it, and that allows us to understand what students themselves value about their accomplishments and their progress.

Antonio Vantaggiato did a great job of reminding everyone that the assessment process for instructors is quite natural, but there’s a new mandate.

When you *change* your methods, styles, technologies as a result of reflecting on how your students do, you are assessing, but now we are being asked to **document it**… the risk is that the reflective part begins with exploring the “how” to do it (document, track, etc.) , instead of focusing on the process.

And finally Gardner Campbell wrote about the limitations in the vernacular of ‘portfolios.’

I’ve been thinking that part of the problem is the metaphor of “portfolio,” which…is all about an inert and meaningless container…The metaphor gets an “e-” in front of it and begins to do damage to our ability to imagine the nature and potential of the new medium.

So I shared these GIFs and these many interesting points about eportfolio and platforms with my assessment crowd. And I got a flatline.


I think I basically sucked it sadly. I was hoping that I might encourage my colleagues to rethink the eportfolio, as an assessment tool born out of Martha’s eportfolio goals 2 & 3 focused on student reflection and  presentation. Talk about it a bit. But I sucked it. Dead room.

I’m disappointed in myself as I imagined I might be effective at fostering a conversation as cool as Martha’s in her blog. But I’ve a long way to go.

Under A Pile of Work, But Still #DS106 #4LIFE

It’s been almost two years since I first discovered DS106, the open-online course created at the University of Mary Washington (UMW). And a year since I took my first York College students through the experience (a crazy humbling one for myself). In the Fall 2011 semester UMW decided not to formally run a ds106 course, but Jim Groom and Martha Burtis were kind enough to support my running my first section of ds106 at York College. And I tried to do some role-playing as a bumbling professor, taking my students on a Journey to the Center of the Internet.

I learned a tremendous amount about teaching out in the open and continue to be inspired by ds106 to keep my art making and teaching chops up. There are times that I get overwhelmed by the work to support the institution as well as teach and make art. But it’s good to have the above reminder hiding under the pile.

We’ll Keep Building At York College

When I started at York College eleven years ago supporting the edtech department (aside –  holy crap this is the longest job I’ve ever held), I was given the opportunity to look at a proposal for a communications technology major that had been dormant since 1991. At first I was, “huh what’s communications technology, it’s new media man,” but new media became not-so-new-media.

Communications technology, commtech,CT, has stuck. And I think for the better.

We’re about to embark on a transformation of the major that will be the largest since its official start in 2003. It’s a crazy, laborious process to update curriculum at a college, but hopefully we’re making a change for the better. I’m excited to finally formalize the ethos of ds106 – digital storytelling into the major (it’s been an unofficial change for three semesters, ack!).

But I’m even more excited to explore the possibilties that might come out of the makerspace Daniel Phelps and I are about to build to support a Hacking and Building course, which will become a foundation course for us. The class is going to replace an introduction to computer science course which taught principally the basics of C++.

The idea of teaching the fundamentals of programming through C++, wasn’t necessarily problematic, but the way the course has been taught was. Semester after semester the CT majors struggled to find any recognizable value for the class, which ultimately is really disappointing. We wanted the students to discover the value of coding as an opportunity to see how digital tools are built. And more importantly how they can be hacked.

Hacked not to do anything malicious of course, that’s such a 1990′s definition of hacking, but to make them your own. And to see that this should be an inherint approach to digital tools, as much as we imagine getting under the hood and modifying cars makes sense.

We’re going to pilot our hacking and building course this spring, and I’m so excited to be a student in the course as much as helping Daniel teach it (ok he wrote the course so I’m fully in a chair, not standing a lecturn). And Tim Owen’s work on the UMW makerspace deserves a huge shout-out for inspiring us as well. See below:


Slinky in Stereo

I created this example Wiggle Stereoscope for class today. Below is a tutorial about how to make a Wiggle Stereoscopic image (ok this isn’t really a stereoscope image just a two frame animated GIF, but the technique is the same) and how to post your first Visual Assignment to DS106.

Recording System Sound with SoundFlower and Quicktime

Here’s a quick tutorial for hijacking the system sound of your Mac, and recording the audio to Quicktime. Soundflower is an application that works with the computer’s audio, acting as a submixer in a sense you can redirect audio to other applications.

1. After launching Soundflower, select the Built-In output so you can monitor sounds redirected to Soundflower.

2. In the  System Preferences > Sound Settings > Output set the output to Soundflower (2ch).

3. Open Quicktime and create a File > New Audio Recording.

4, Set the audio input to Soundflower (2ch)

5. Hit the record button and play a sound from any application, including audio from webpages. When finished hit stop and trim the audio file, using Edit > Trim.


6. After trimming export the file or save as the file. You can use other tools to convert the audio file format. iTunes is actually useful to convert to mp3 if needed.

Truth in Your Digital Mask

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Mr Atrocity

Oscar Wilde described of his essay, The Truth of Masks – A Note On Illusionthat:

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.

We’re going to play with this idea of finding truth about your educational experiences so far by using a digital mask that will allow you to anonymously leave behind a message. Using a text to speech generator, I want you to record a message by hijacking the system sound and drop it in this public drop box (see links at the top of this post).

To inspire our ‘truthful’ discussion, I want you to watch Michael Wesch’s video A Vision of Student’s Today, student’s collaboratively edited a Google document to define their sense of their own education. Quotes were then displayed by students through out the video to provoke a conversation about education.

What is your vision of your education? What do you think about it so far? Are you taking it serious enough? Should you? What does that mean anyway, to be a serious student?

How does your digital identity fit into your education? Does it? How? Should it? Why or why not?

Upload your audio file using the links at the top of this post.

[rad-dropbox button="Upload!"]

Week 3 York DS106 – Your Taste, Your Creativity

Anything creative you make is an effort to showcase your taste. It may not be a perfect expression of your ideas, but you can keep working at it.

I think this is probably one of the most important things to think about while making work this semester and far, far beyond. One of the best features of DS 106 is that it asks you to interrogate what makes good storytelling in a variety of mediums. There’s photography, design, video, audio, writing, and even web stories. Whether you’ve created work in some of these areas, or all, or possibly none, there will be moments of uncomfortableness with either the process or the results of your work.

The video above includes the voice of Ira Glass, the producer of the highly successful NPR radio show This American Life. He’s articulating the advice he wished he’d received when first getting started in a creative field. I think my favorite quote is this one in which he’s describing the stuff people make when they’re first starting out:

We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.

Make anything, make it often, do it on a deadline. This is what the daily create asks of you every day. Norm Wright did every one of the first 100 daily creates and celebrated this on the one hundredth by making a collage of all of them.

I like a lot of people in the ds106 community were gobsmacked by his commitment to his work. There is so much to be learned by staying in the creative habit. And if you believe we can all be artists, and you’re willing to work at it, then there is so much that’s possible.

DS106 Explodes Chicken

I know it’s a rooster, but the original animated GIF was titled ‘chickenexplode.’ I love the old school animated GIFs which packed a lot of action in very, very little data – often just a few Kilobytes. That was necessary back when the web was delivered to you at 56 kbps.

I thought it would be interesting to play with these older GIFs and give them a Web 2.0 makeover. First you can make them a lot larger now. The rooster above was originally 89 x 79 pixels, and had the the letters ‘TNT.’ With the help of Photoshop, it’s pretty easy to enlarge existing GIFs (now it’s 600 pixels wide) and also make some basic edits. Changing the text was pretty straight forward, but I think it would be fun to enlarge and combine a few of this old GIFs to create a story. Which leads to making this a ds106 visual assignment – Exploding Classic Animated GIFs.

I made this tutorial to show how I made it and shared a few favorite classic GIFs as well.