Whiteboards, round tables and a dash of humanity

OK, I should probably be sleeping right now. I’m cranky and exhausted from a long day of stringing things together that may be better left apart and solving problems that probably don’t exist. The bright spot in my day (the spot that got me wondering) was something that happened while I was listening in to the Educause webinar: Developments in Higher Education Educational Technology: The Horizon
Report in Action. Someone posted to the chat (Sam, I think) that students at his institution were most excited about rolling white boards and round tables – when surveyed about new technology use on campus. A wave of agreement swelled in the chat – and I reflected on my own campus at UBC in Vancouver – yep, it’s the white boards and round tables that students covet here as well. Gateway drugs to discussion and collaboration? (Sam’s clever question) . Mmmm, discussion and collaboration without the use of a chat room, twitter stream, tumbler, Flickr group? Don’t we need to document it, somehow? O.K. the kids are craving something. Maybe it’s a chance to talk and think out loud – with pens and drawings and without the compulsion to represent, hone their personas, hashtag, retweet, like, post and badge it all up with a big digital bow. That can be stressful.

I don’t know, but I’m reminded of something else that came up in the Educause chat – something about complication and complexity. Are we providing learning environments that encourage students to wrestle with the complexity that comes from way finding, questioning, creating, adapting, dealing with conflict and sometimes failing an attempt or two? Or are we complicating them with multiple carefully calibrated and automated assessments, sophisticated and sleek pre-packaged technologies, processes and accompanying policies (for their protection, of course)? When faced with complexity, I think we have a natural tendency to try to figure it out. But when faced with complication, the tendency shifts to want to simplify. Is that what we’re doing in the name of improving our learning environments? We’ve flipped, flexed and automated learning to the point that ( in some cases) we’ve almost excluded any unexpected, chance encounters with wild ideas that often occur around tables with a whiteboard nearby. Not everything can be reflected in an algorithm after all. Algorithms cut out the fat. They don’t account for complexity. You know, like the stuff we humans are made for.

In higher ed these days, it seems we view students as “producers”, consumers, research subjects to be analyzed, tracked and surveilled ad nauseum but do we ever just revel in the fact that they are (like us) complex and fallible human beings with a profound need to figure stuff out together around a table – with a whiteboard, maybe ?


Resource Management Framework

or small pieces thoughtfully joined.  Whether you choose an open resource management framework (like the one my colleagues Novak, Brian and I described at ETUG 2010) or a closed CMS, you’ll likely want to consider workflow – how to author and update in one place and syndicate to many, how to aggregate and join small pieces together to make a coherent whole – depending on your needs and context and how to do all of this on a shoestring budget.  We talked about WordPressMU and Mediawiki as the platforms – joined together (thoughtfully) by the small pieces.

For us, the small pieces consist of:

  • namespaces
  • subpages
  • dynamic page lists
  • embed code

Our wiki page gives the gist of the presentation: Resource Management Framework

And (for a few not so subtle collage references) you can check out these slides on Slideshare

Recently, I’ve put together some supporting screencasts on Screenr  (specific to a recent project using namespaces). You can get a sense of the project shaping up on UBCWiki Learning Commons namespace.


  • there was much interest among the participants in our ETUG session for this approach to content management – bottom line though is openness.  The more protections and locks on content editing you want in place – the higher the cost in making this work. The discussion about open content editing is a thorny one.
  • we are still arguing about the cost of maintaining namespaces subpages (which are sometimes locked for editing among a small group of users)
  • we have some partners in the Library and Faculty of Arts who are trying out this approach in the context of some of their resource development projects.  It will be very interesting to see how these projects unfold over the coming months and what sorts of issues crop up.
  • policies around wiki use (page creation, deletion, etc) needs attention and (ultimately) user contribution to make this work. Some recent issues have brought this to a head.

So, lots of work in progress on this front. Glad to be a part of it!

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Mapping Continued

Here are a few observations and updated resources from a recent workshop I delivered on mindmaps and concept maps. The goal was to have people try out the process (on paper), consider advantages/disadvantages of online formats and experiment with a few online tools.

Workshop outline (using Novamind) – (which is a good personal tool, less good as presentation tool):

Supporting wiki resource: Mind Mapping Resources (in progress).

Handout (some people love this stuff):

What I learned:

  • faculty not so keen on free form experimentation with tools  (this needed more structure maybe?)
  • best to stick to demo of one tool in depth when time is short – I tired to show 3 for different purposes – think it was too much
  • would have been better to have faculty who use a mapping tool co-present.
  • some people like to know exactly how it applies to their context – not sure how to deal with this – sometimes need to let people sit with their questions for a while?

Social Networking: Should it be part of my class?

Image by sitmonkeysupreme via Flickr

At my university, profs are on the fence about this. Some say yes, go where the students are.  Others say no, don’t want to jump on that bandwagon. Many say, tell me more…

In response to “tell me more”, my colleagues and I have gathered some resources together in a wiki. Maybe some of you will find this useful (and add your own resources?).

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Mind Mapping Madness

Mind Mapping while Brainstorming at ETUG 2008I had alot of fun presenting at the 2008 Educational Technology User’s Group Spring Workshop last week. The theme was Creativity and it was aptly held at Vancouver’s Emily Carr Institute of Arts and Design

The session was hands-on and I used Novamind as a presentation tool and Bubbl.us for some hands on brainstorming activity. The diagram of our collective output is right or in flash format here: Mind Mapping Tips.

Bubbl.us was easy to use in a short presentation format. Here’s why:

  • easy to create accounts (no email confirmations necessary).
  • easy to use: we didn’t provide any step by steps – just a little hands on support here and there as needed.
  • nicely embedded into our Mind Mapping Resources wiki for post session follow up.

For me, the pleasure in presenting comes from the participants – their questions, contributions and new ideas. This session was no exception on that front!