A call to educators: Change is upon us

Teaching in higher education is my second calling. My first was in an industry that has been radically changed by the advent of modern communication technology.

I was in print.

For many people, if you mention the word ‘printing’, they will say it’s dead. If you search the internet, you are as likely to get information on computer printers or 3D printers, as you are information about the printing industry.

“I never get anything printed anymore” people say. Their desktop printer can handle most things that would have been printed in the past. There is virtually no consumer market for printing. Even business cards have been commoditized to the point where you can order them online for ten bucks. Not surprising, as over the course of history, the ways that we communicate with each other change. And not since Gutenberg have we seen a communications revolution affect the printed page quite so dramatically as the last few decades. And it’s not over yet.

As a teenager, one of my first jobs was running a letterpress printing press. I learned how to cast metal type. Then I moved into composition where the text and images were ‘pasted up’ on boards, using a T-square and right angle.

Then a computer company called Apple created a computer called the Macintosh.

from Wikimedia commons - Alexander Schaelss
Game changer.

Some printers thought is was a nice toy. It was simplistic, it didn’t work all that well, and while the idea was novel, it wasn’t going to replace the knowledge and expertise of a trained typesetter. Of course, they still had to be highly skilled, but in no time, technology started to change everything they knew. Over the last 30 years, it’s been a bumpy ride for anyone in printed communications. Many companies have failed, highly trained professionals have fallen behind that couldn’t keep up, and newspapers are on their last gasp. But printing is far from dead. It has evolved. Modern printing companies are high-tech, lean, and contribute to a $640 Billion industry worldwide. The companies who are thriving now are the ones that don’t run scared from technology, but openly adapt to it. Was it a blood-letting? Absolutely. Is it over yet? Not at all.

About 6 years ago, after managing to survive and adapt to these changes, I made a career change to higher education, only to see so many of the same warning signs I saw years ago! Technology IS changing the way we teach. Devices infiltrating the classrooms. Distance education is being liberated in both time and space by asynchronous online education. And all I can say to myself is, “didn’t I go through this once already?”

Because I can see that it is following a very similar pattern. And if it even remotely resembles the change that happened in print, then we are in for one long and scary ride. It’s evolve or die, folks. I’m afraid I don’t have any other way to say it. Because not only do I think it’s not over, but really, it’s barely started.

Educators, I implore you to understand this. In the beginning, many printing companies laughed at new technology. They thought that ‘business as usual’ was going to cut it.

It didn’t.

So now, when I hear an educator say that they don’t allow technology in the classroom, it makes me a bit nervous. Of course, there are times when we need to put down our phones and pay attention. But business as usual is not going to survive. We need to meet the learners where they are. We need to engage with the technology that can enhance the learning experience, not detract from it.

Ask yourself: what are you doing in your class to adapt to the changing times? Because there is no way that genie is going back into the bottle. The devices are already in the hands of the learners. And other educators are already using technology to guide students to better learning. What are your plans? Because if I’ve learned anything over the last 30 years, it’s that there’s no going back.

Macintosh Computer – from Wikimedia Commons, Alexander Schaelss

Tips (and gripes) on using video in learning

Video learning came to mind as I was thinking about how e-books and digital textbooks don’t have to just be a text-dump copy of the paper book. Since the digital format of an e-book allows for interactive elements, video, and other digital assets to aid in comprehension, why wouldn’t we take advantage of the technology? A few months ago, I worked on a project that was merely a proof-of-concept for myself for creating a pdf e-book with embedded video. Through my experience with that, and related academic study, I have collected some thoughts on how to best do video for learning.

In the mainstream, there are a ton of do it yourself (DIY) and self-help videos on the internet that will show you how to fix or make just about anything. For example, if you had never fixed a flat tire on your bicycle before, you could grab a patch kit and read the instructions. But why not access the collective knowledge of the internet? Go to YouTube, and… 380,000 results later(!) you know how to fix a bike tire.

Video instruction is very valuable for something like fixing a tire on your bike. Through visual instruction, psychomotor skills are easily transmitted through video. Video lectures are a more focused learning experience than the traditional study of a textbook. The learner can see how it works, and can listen to narration guiding them through it. Many of us have had very good experiences with video instruction.

However, there really are 380,000 YouTube results for “how to repair a bike tube”. This is a ridiculous number. What this indicates is that there are more people interested in making videos than there are people watching them. We only need one! Or realistically, maybe a couple dozen to account for different kinds of bikes, but even then, the other 379,976 of them are not really needed. Lesson one: why reinvent the wheel?

there are more people interested in making videos than there are people watching them.

Reading is one of the fastest ways of receiving information. For another example, perhaps I’ve got a halogen houselamp with a burned-out bulb. I want to take the old bulb to the store in order to buy the correct replacement. Do I unscrew the old bulb (it seems stuck) or do I push-and-turn? Back to the internet, where the first three hits are helpful people that will show me with video! But I don’t need to waste time watching video to answer what really doesn’t need video to explain in the first place. All I need is someone to say, “push the bulb in, and turn counter-clockwise.” That’s all. Lesson two: Don’t use video when simple words will suffice. Words are always faster.

Which brings me to the next point, that of video length. If there is only a simple task to accomplish, there’s nothing worse than having to sit through a 15 minute video. If I’m reading written information that I am already partly familiar with, it is easy to skim through. But unless the video software has a transcript or bookmarking feature, there’s no easy way to fast-forward without potentially missing out on the information you are looking for. Lesson three: keep it as short and concise as possible. It’s important that videos exclusively target what the student needs to learn. If I load a YouTube video and the narrator says enthusiastically, “Hi there! My name is Bill, and today, I’m going to show you how to change a lightbulb. But before we get started, I’ll first show you what tools we are going to need in order to…”  *click. That was me, quitting the video. My life’s too short. If you want to go into detail, do a quick overview first, then go back and get into the fine details and troubleshooting tips.

What about TED talks? These are very informative, and run upwards of fifteen to twenty minutes. And we all like watching them, right? Well, yes, we do. Because they are entertaining. TED makes sure that the presenter is highly prepared, and that the topic is concise, interesting, and entertaining. Keep in mind however that simply presenting information in a stimulating and interesting digital video format will not automatically lead to in-depth learning. Lesson four: if we have lots of information to cover in one video, inspiration and enthusiasm won’t fix everything, but it helps. I’m not a big fan of the term, “edutainment”, but there’s a nugget of truth to it when it comes to video instruction.

We know that video isn’t the best method for instruction in every case. Some other options instead? Written word, flow charts, tables, infographics, transcripts, or screenshots. Save the real-time audio and video instruction for when it’s most useful. There’s no denying the amazing power of showing a complicated, visual task with video. Just don’t get so enamoured with it that you use it for everything.

Postscript: I have spoken to a number of friends and colleagues about this topic, and I would like to disclose that I may be a bit of a grumpy-britches when it comes to video. There are many people who like to learn via the slower pace of a video instruction. They like the teacher to take the time to establish a rapport instead of going straight to the action. And if they are presented with the option of reading instructions, or watching a video, they will choose the video. However, I hope that what I’m saying makes sense, and that perhaps as educators, we can find the best ways to make use of video instruction in the future.

Brecht, H. D., & Ogilby, S. M. (2008). Enabling a Comprehensive Teaching Strategy: Video Lectures. Journal of Information Technology Education, 7, IIP71–IIP86.

Karppinen, P. (2005). Meaningful Learning with Digital and Online Videos: Theoretical Perspectives. AACE Journal, 13(3), 233–250.

Twitter for pedagogical reflection?

After participating in the #digped chat on Twitter today, I have been thinking about how best to use Twitter in the classroom setting. The topic of the chat was specifically about the use of hashtags, but near the end of the chat, a conversational exchange took place that would end up capturing my thoughts for the next few hours.

One of the primary goals of setting up a ‘backchannel’ in Twitter is to benefit people who are not in attendance. We see this commonly at events and gatherings such as conferences and workshops. But during the chat, I also shared that I was keen to create a backchannel for students that would be attending a face-to-face class this fall. Not for the benefit of outside parties, but for ‘reflection’. I used the term reflection a bit off-the-cuff, and if you have participated in a Twitter chat, you know that (at least for an INTJ like me) keeping up with an active chat robs you of the time you need to find ‘just the right word’. One of my MA classmates, Danielle, (who is much sharper than I, and not an INTJ, I’m sure) immediately questioned my suggestion of using Twitter for student reflection, when other tech tools such as blogs, wikis, or message boards would be more appropriate, due to the opportunity for longer-form writing. (Side note: make friends with people who are willing to disagree with you. It advances your learning wonderfully.)


She’s absolutely right, and this became my catalyst for deeper thinking on the subject. A Twitter post is not a good place for thoughtful self-reflection. In fact, what I hadn’t managed to say in 140 words at the time was that my strategy this fall with my new students IS to get them using blogs for reflection and self-assessment. However, my thinking is that some low-level ‘ideas generation’ on Twitter might be just the thing to get the process started. Enter my idea for using a backchannel. In choosing the word reflection, I was thinking about it in the ‘internal’ sense. What goes on inside the head of the learner. Of course, the formal activity of written reflection and the forming of advanced ideas through constructive thought is just not going to happen inside 140 characters. But that intrinsic ‘spark’—a little nugget of a question, could that kick off the process? Alison picked up on that and shared:


Process is a key part of adult learning. As Knowles, Holton, & Swanson (2005) state in The Adult Learner, “the [traditional] content model is concerned with transmitting information and skills, whereas the process model is concerned with providing procedures and resources for helping learners acquire information and skills” (p. 115). For me, encouraging the students to begin a process of discovery by starting with some short thoughts in Twitter, then progressing to a longer, more formal reflection on a blog or class message board makes sense, and contributes to andragogical process.

In order to wrap up this short train of thought, what really brought this all home was this tweet:

As Jesse points out, a Twitter chat is a living process where ideas flow, and are formed by, the participants. It is often true that one leaves the chat with some new insights that they may not have expected to gain from simple 140 word exchanges. As I write this, it’s easy to see that this whole exercise is in itself, meta: I voiced an opinion on Twitter, and had it examined and processed by others who then added to the discourse. I took that information away, thought about it some more, and then wrote this blog post about it. I can always tell when its been great Twitter chat, because my web browser has numerous tabs open to sites with topics I want to explore further. That is exactly the type of experience that I would like to create for my students. Twitter may not be the right tool for formal written reflection, but it is a great pedagogical (andragogical) tool to stimulate such further reflection.

Thanks to @jessifer for hosting a thoughtful chat, @ebooks_dani and @alisonseaman for your thoughts, and to all of today’s participants for their insight and expertise.

Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2005). The adult learner : The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development. Burlington, MA: Elsevier.

Building my PLN: online and connected

One of the best things that has evolved for me this year is the growth of my personal learning network (PLN). There are two main thrusts to this change, interestingly enough, neither directly related to the school I work for. We do have PD opportunities at work, and the sessions are excellent. They usually consist of a seminar-style dump of information, where I scribble ideas in a notebook, get inspired about the topic, then close the notebook at the end and get back to work. The short burst of information is useful and often inspiring, but I’m always at risk of letting it slip away over time, if I don’t put it to use right away. Obviously there is a value in such formalized professional development (PD), but we mustn’t overlook the value in ‘build your own’ PD or informal PD.

The two greatest additions to my PLN this year have been my classmates in my Masters degree program, and Twitter. Most notably, this has brought about a huge increase in the number of people I can refer to for information on an large number of topics. Taking a graduate degree program has caused me to be substantially immersed in the subject matter. This is a connection to 40 or so other students that are experiencing the same courses, research and writing that I am. This part of my PLN has been all about support, camaraderie and helping each other find new sources of information. It’s a more intimate, close-up view of education in technology-mediated learning. I have met each of these people personally, and expect to remain friends with them for a long time.

Twitter has brought a wider view to my PLN, also in two distinct realms. First is a group of outstanding educators from around the world who share their challenges and successes on a daily basis. These are people I would never have had the chance to meet, were it not for the connectedness of a communication tool like Twitter. These connections are about education and learning itself. The ability to expand my learning in best practices for teaching. Other educators share suggestions on what works, and give the encouragement needed to try new classroom strategies. Where else can you read a book about teaching, and interact with the author one-on-one if you have questions? The second component of a Twitter PLN is in the subject area(s) that I teach. I teach in graphic design, typography, and other graphic arts. Finding and following a number of others in this field keeps me current on what is going on in the world of design, and again, affords a reach that would be impossible before the advent of social networking. In both of these contexts, I am also able to share my expertise back to others at the same time. I’ve worked in the print and graphic arts industry my whole life, but only been teaching for the last 5 years. Naturally, for some topics, I’m able to gain information, and on others, I’m able to share. This two-way sharing of knowledge is what makes it all work, quite seamlessly. 

The biggest, most important suggestion for adding to your PLN? Get involved. I’ve had a Twitter account for a long time, but nothing happened much while I watched from the sidelines. Reply to tweets, ask questions, and start a blog so that you can share your insights. All of this will start a ‘snowball’ effect, and put you in contact with more and more experts. One final word of advice would be to not worry too much about your ‘follower count’ – this is merely a number, and unless you are selling something, it doesn’t matter too much in the beginning. But as you interact with others, and you start taking part in sharing information, you will find the count starts to climb naturally. Just let it go. Meet people, discuss topics you are interested in, and most of all, have fun!

2 spaces: the Dodo bird that refuses to die.

Two spaces after a period is typographically incorrect.
You heard me. It’s wrong.

The Sixth edition of the APA Publication Manual suggests 2 spaces after a period. But I refuse to do it. For I can not, in good conscience, commit such a foul deed. We will explore the APA manual a bit later. First, some background.

I know that keying two spaces after a period was likely taught to you in typing class, but you aren’t in typing class anymore. And without being critical of your age, if you (like me) had to take ‘typing’ in high school (as opposed to it’s younger sibling, ‘keyboarding class’) that was a long time ago. It’s okay, just let go. Your typing teacher would probably forgive you for it. Now.

The whole 2 spaces issue arose from a modern invention: monospaced fonts. And where is the most common place where monospaced fonts are needed? You guessed it, the typewriter. You see, in a typewriter, every character is placed on the page the exact same distance from each other. This is necessary of course, because of the mechanical nature of the device. You press the key, the type ‘strikes’ the paper through a ribbon. Every letter is the same distance apart from the next. Which means that some letters, like the letter ‘I’, are going to be further from other letters, like ‘M’. And in order to aid in readability, people came up with the idea of adding an extra space at the end of a sentence. In the late 60’s, IBM developed the Executive Model D typewriter, which featured proportional spacing (IBM archives, 2012), but it was expensive at over $700 in 1969, and by the time the technology really caught on, the damage had already been done.

With computers, we do not need monospaced fonts anymore. Probably one of the only examples of a monospaced font on your computer is Courier. You don’t use that one, right? I hope not. Why? Because it looks like it came from a typewriter, that’s why!

Typeface fonts are created with what’s called ‘proportional’ spacing. Professional typesetters have been using proportional fonts from since before typewriters were invented. Gutenberg used proportional type. What that means is that when you put the letter ‘i’ in between two letter ‘M’s, there isn’t a huge gap of whitespace. A proportional font closes the gap. The type, as a result, is set properly and therefore is easier to read, with characters looking like they belong together in a cohesive word. And the space at the end of a sentence is plenty large enough (deliberately) to do it’s job. Two spaces is overkill. The Chicago Manual of Style specifies one space (University of Chicago Press, 2010).

Which brings me back to the APA 6th. I have been told that the manual specifies 2 spaces after a period, which is odd, because we are commonly working in Times New Roman, a proportional font. Let’s look in the book: Item 4.1 says “Spacing twice after punctuation marks at the end of a sentence aids readers of draft manuscripts” (American Psychological Association, 2010, p. 88). Compared to the other rules in the manual, this one sounds a little weak, and refers specifically to draft documents. Which could mean articles written for a class, for instance. This is causing what you might call “cognitive dissonance”. I actually teach my students not to use two spaces, and now I am being asked to do the opposite.

Looks like this is shaping up to become my own personal academic rebellion. I’m going to be writing a lot of reports for this master’s degree, but I’m not going to be able to break away from using only one space, even though the APA suggests it. Who’s with me?

Note: After writing my rant above, I went looking for other writers to back up my argument, and found this excellent article on the subject from Slate Magazine that pretty much echoes what I said above.:


American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. Washington: American Psychological Association.

The Chicago manual of style. (2010). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

IBM Archives: IBM Office Products Division highlights – page 2. (n.d.).IBM – United States. Retrieved August 22, 2012, from http://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/exhibits/modelb/modelb_office2.html

Active pass

Residency is over now—the group has disbanded, and while a few remain in Victoria for a little relaxation and sightseeing, the rest of us make our way home. I am writing this post from BC Ferries. Between Vancouver Island and the mainland lie many smaller islands called the ‘Gulf Islands’. The best route the ferry can take to get through is an ‘s’ shaped gap between Mayne and Galiano islands called ‘Active Pass’. It’s a surprisingly narrow gap that is of course deep enough for the hull of a large ferry. Not only that, but it’s at about the halfway point on the route, which means that two ferries pass each other in the middle of the pass. One of my favorite west coast traditions is to go out on deck as the ferry enters the pass.

Today’s trip was outstanding. As the ship entered the narrow entrance, the water was swirling and churning from a massive rip-tide. Huge whirlpools of water, clouded with brown sediment, were spinning and dancing. Looking down from my perch on the top deck, I saw a fish jump, and watched large flocks of seagulls scavenging for whatever ocean life was getting churned to the surface for food. A seal surfaced near the boat, also likely looking for the feeding salmon that were in the area. Families on deck came over to the railing, and the parent next to me was pointing out the seal to their child just before the seal dove back down underwater.
As the other ferry entered the pass from the other end, the captain gave the requisite long blast of the air horns, then gave a few more toot-toots in greeting. Passengers covered the decks of both vessels as they passed by each other. A few more minutes, and we exited the pass, out into the straight – the final leg of the journey.

With the weeks of residency over, this educational journey has just begun. The next two years will be exciting, tiring, rewarding and frustrating all at once. I am glad to have met such a great group of people, and look forward to working with my fellow classmates in the years to come.

Voice-activated learning

In our case study this week, I have been trying to find articles and information about how language can affect the usage of technology in learning. We come to a course like this knowing that the content will be in English, but how does that relate to those of us that may have another language as our first language? I can only speak English, and the course is challenging enough. But if I were to be studying in a language that was not my first language, I’m sure it would be more of a challenge. I have met some wonderful people here in the program who are doing just that.

Since adult learning is social learning, the way that we can connect with each other, support each other, and learn from each other is very important. We must endeavour to continue to support each other online, particularly when rules such as APA writing style are hard enough in English. I liked the joke that the APA style was invented by psychologists in order to drum up business! Of online students in Australia from a study performed by John Hannon (2007), “half (50.2 percent) did not have good communication with students from other cultural backgrounds”. We must carry on supporting each other, and trying not to lose anything in the translation. I’m looking forward to it.

I will leave you with a short video about the challenges faced when using technology in other cultures.


John Hannon, B. D. (2007). Cultural diversity online: Student engagement with learning technologies. International Journal of Educational Management, 21(5), 418-432. doi: 10.1108/09513540710760192

Remember Sammy Jankis

Today’s class on Cognitive Theory, in particular, the discussion about cognitive information processing, had me thinking about the movie Memento

If you haven’t seen the movie, and think you would still like to, I will try not to spoil it too much. But I will have to discuss the salient points from just the early part of the film so if you would like to shy away, then feel free to do so.

Still here? Good. let’s talk about Leonard Shelby. Leonard, the protagonist in the film, has suffered a terrible trauma and is thus afflicted with Anterograde amnesia: “a selective memory deficit, resulting from brain injury, in which the individual is severely impaired in learning new information.” (Myers, 2006, para.1) We discussed how the brain takes very little time to decide what information to move into long term memory and what to discard. In the movie, Leonard is unable to process short term memories into long term memory. He can remember events from before the traumatic event, but cannot make new memories since. A real shame, as he has thoroughly embraced the idea of tracking down his wife’s killer.

ImageBecause he can only remember facts anywhere from about 30 seconds to a couple of minutes at a stretch, he must resort to taking polaroid photographs, writing notes to himself, and tattooing the key clues to his wife’s murder on his body. He befriends a police detective who is also trying to help, albeit with tongue in cheek. Leonard is certainly not a professional investigator, and with his disability seems to be getting nowhere. But Leonard forges on, firmly of the belief that one day revenge will be his, and yes, it will be sweet.

This brings to mind not just our discussion of cognitive theory, but of that little ‘devil in the details’, gathering data in research. Leonard Shelby’s quest is driven purely by facts. The clues he gathers must be immediately written down and catalogued, as they are his only way to coherently put together a history. His ‘research’ is tattooed all over his chest and arms. His references are jotted on cocktail napkins, bar coasters, matchbooks and polaroid photographs. But slowly he is working on solving his question. And once he has it figured out, his intention is to murder his wife’s killer.

How would Leonard’s research methodology hold up in the real world? Would this method bear fruit? Not likely. In Leonard’s case, any new knowledge he gathers disappears after a couple of minutes. His only way of maintaining custody of the information is to commit it to writing. Can this be any way to proceed with something of such grave consequence? Someone should share some research methodologies with him. Not that he would remember them, anyway.



Myers, Catherine A. (2006). Anterograde Amnesia. Memory Loss and the Brain. Retrieved from http://www.memorylossonline.com/glossary/anterogradeamnesia.html

Images copyright Newmarket Films

Social media in the classroom

Of particular interest to me right now, and what may end up being a fascinating research topic is the use of social media in the classroom. I’m not sure the term ‘digital native’ is as accurate or appropriate as some might think, but in my experience, there are many learners in my classes that are using social sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and others to communicate with their peers. From a research perspective, we can’t say many. We have to ask, “how many?”, “how often?”, or more appropriately, “Is there anything to be gained from it?”

The epistemological implications need to go beyond just how social media is being used in the class, to some sort of reporting of any benefit to learning. It is fine for instructors or facilitators to make the class ‘cool’ by using these resources, but if it isn’t bringing improvements to learning, it may be increasing the facilitator’s workload for no reason. ImageI know in my program, that by setting up a facebook page for our students (in our face to face classes), as a forum for posting interesting articles, discussion topics, and class information, our contact with the students has improved. The students are online so often, that even last minute room changes are appropriate posted there, than via more traditional means.

This blog is an example of a school assignment, and it was assigned with specific criteria. While it may be a valid project for learning, a facilitator would have to be careful to guide the use of social media, if it were to be expected to be successful at contributing towards student success at meeting or exceeding learning outcomes. Of course, this is just speculation based on my personal experience with a certain group of students. But I do think it would be interesting to study the addition of a social site to work alongside more traditional online learning portals such as D2L or Moodle.

The beatings will continue until morale improves…

Motivational Theory. As learners, where and how do we get the drive to move forwards? At this moment, one week into my Master’s residency, I feel highly motivated. I want to be here, I’m enjoying being here, and I want to be successful, for a number of reasons. Of course, over time, this feeling may change, as it does for all of us.Motivation

I have been thinking about motivation and comparing it to theories we discussed in class. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs makes a lot of sense, as do a number of other theories that Lisa presented. (By the way, who did Maslow have to pay to get so popular? Maslow this, Maslow that… enough already!)  Out of all of them, I am particularly interested in MacClelland’s 3 need theory. The concept of putting needs across a spectrum and having the ‘middle’ of the chart represent the ideal is appealing to me—and seems to align to my own philosophical beliefs.

The other thought that comes to mind in studying motivation, is the idea of people being ‘motivated’ to participate in research, and by this I mean at the subject level. As we have been discussing using both surveys and interviews towards answering research questions, I am struck that we need study participants to be motivated to give their opinion. How is that possible when everyone already claims to be busy or overloaded, and nobody wants to get involved? When telephone pollsters call me, my standard line is, “I’m sorry, I don’t do surveys.” (This works, by the way, and I prefer it to just ‘hanging up’, which to me, always feels rude.) 

But now, I am placed in the position of planning to do research to finish my degree. How am I going to motivate people to participate? And even more importantly, what methods of motivation won’t inadvertently skew the results?