Is Stock Photography Right for You?

Thoughtful caucasian with laptop.

I was on Twitter recently, and I posted something that needs a broader explanation. James Glapa-Grossklag (an OER superhero) posted a link to an interesting article from Science News “College biology textbooks still portray a world of white scientists. Recent shifts to include more women and people of color still lag behind students’ diversity. College biology students are getting more diverse. That diversity isn’t mirrored in the textbooks they study from.” Only somewhat ironically, the article used stock photography to illustrate the article. That is what magazines often do, but there are pictures of actual working scientists of color out there. I responded with: Friends don’t let friends use stock photos. Same with college websites! Digital tokenism is no replacement for supporting photographers or the marketing dept. to actually record students & faculty at work on campuses. If they need stock photos, they need to increase diversity. Now this is all great “woke” of me, but how I got here took a little growth.

Happy ambiguously brown person

This is an old favorite from the California Community College system.

Back in 2010 or so when I was working at College of the Redwoods, I was always in a hurry to put presentations and teaching materials together. My big short-cut was using stock photography. I didn’t even think about it. In fact, much of the artwork from the California Community College system was stock photography. They used so much of it, I started recognizing images. I started using some of them myself. In my instructional design team was a great artist and photographer, Bosha Struve. She was looking at an image that I had in one of our lessons and seemed annoyed. When I asked here what was wrong, she said that these were not our students and that with a marketing team and a photographer on staff, I should just get a release form going and have real people. I said that we didn’t have time for that. Later, when I was reviewing the project, I asked her what was different about the photo. Something had changed. She said that she kept the people but she at least should be allowed to put them in our library! I felt stupid and humbled, but grateful that we had an artist on the team.

Other stories have come out about non-diverse institutions using people of color in their marketing to make up for the lack of diversity with the staff and students. Sabrina Abbas in SMU’s The Daily Campus pointed out an article where researchers reported that African-American students make up an average of 7.9 percent of students in the colleges studied, but 12.4 percent of those in marketing photos. When they looked at predominantly white schools, African-Americans made up about 5 percent of the student body, but were photographed at 14.5 percent. Another study points out that “the whiter the student body at a college, the more often images of minorities were featured in its publications.”

This is artistically lazy and highlights the actual lack of diversity in education. The real answer to this that we need to transform how we think and fund education in this country as well as how we hire. If you are wondering what kinds of obstacles we might be facing, go to any stock photography site and do a search for “college administrator.” Wear your sunglasses though because you are about to be blinded by the white.

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Teaching in a Pandemic: We Have Solved This Problem Before

The situation here is familiar: circumstances demand that we change how we deliver teaching and learning. We need to employ different teaching modalities, and we need to quickly prepare students for that. Notice I didn’t say “new” modalities. We are in a situation, and we will be here for a while, where we are bringing students and teachers online who have never been in an online class. The initial results are predictably bad: it takes skill, knowledge, and experience to teach online, as well as to learn online, and most of the population is not prepared. There are a number of “quick fixes” out there, but Zoom is not an online class or a replacement for one. Thinking that any one tool or even a combination of tools is a replacement for a classroom is the result of thinking of education purely in transactional terms. Real learning takes place in community, an engaged, connected community – a webinar does not replace this. So what do we do?

The Connectivist Classroom

The good news is that we have solved similar problems before. Back in 2008, I was approached by a Health Information Management instructor who had some problems to solve: the teachers were spending has much time teaching the technology of learning as they were their subjects; the students needed more technical skills; the students also needed to learn how to manage rapid changes in technology. This is similar to where we are now except most teachers and admins do not see the problem this way – they still see it as a “how do we deliver instruction” question rather than a change management problem. Additionally, we had the added problem that most of our community college students were already working in health care with erratic schedules. We did not want to exclude students because they have to work.

The Design

Together, we wrote a syllabus and course outline, Health Information Management 101. This course was a credit/no credit, two unit, student success course where we taught the students all of the technology they would need to be successful in the HIM program: their learning management system, web 2.0 tools, and Second Life (it was used on campus). The idea was to get all of the technology, formation of learning networks, and information access all in one class. This lets the teachers use the the technology to facilitate the course without having to teach the technology to the students. We hoped that this would be rolled out campus-wide one day, not just in the HIM department. The course design was based what we saw coming out of Connectivism, a new learning theory about how learning happens in networks, the book “The Starfish and the Spider” (a book about leaderless organizations), and the 23 Things project that introduced new technologies to librarians each week.  I later came to understand the”leaderless classroom” more fully in Open Pedagogy.

It is important to stress here: even though there is a lot of technology in this class, it is about people and the connections they make, not the tools.

A map of the connections between students and facilitators.


The idea was that we would design the course around connecting students with second year students, students who had graduated and were now in the field, and facilitators for the course. How were they all connected? The course introduced students to blogs, wikis, Twitter, and what was then called “Web 2.0” cloud-based applications that allowed for online communication, collaboration, and sharing.

A map of all the tools used in HIM 101

We did not use all of these tools: we introduced many of them and let the students self-select which tools and platforms they wanted to work with and they tended to congregate around their shared preferences. The list of the tools changed from quarter to quarter, and sometimes week-to-week.

The “Classroom”

Remember, like today, we had to deal with people teaching and learning from different sites based on family and work needs. We decided to use a physical lab, a virtual classroom, and an LMS. The physical lab had a computer with a camera and microphone that was connected to the virtual room. The virtual room was Elluminate (an ancestor of Zoom). There were speakers in the lab so those in the lab could hear questions and comments in the the virtual class. Students could log into the virtual classroom with a laptop, microphone, and camera or they could dial in on the phone. Sometimes the physical lab’s microphone was the lab’s telephone.


HIM Classroom setup

Students could:

  • Come to the physical classroom (the lab)
  • Dial in on a phone
  • Participate in the virtual class via Elluminate
  • Go through the learning management system (Angel), do assignments there and link to recordings of the virtual classroom

The class was very successful, and by that I mean that we succeeded in creating and supporting a community of learners and practitioners that extended far beyond the classroom. One of my favorite moments in the class, one that told me we had it set up just right was when I was with a few students in the physical lab. A student in the lab had a problem, I could not get to that student yet as I was helping another, and I said I would be right there. Then a disembodied voice from the virtual class called the student by name and said “I know how to figure that out” and she proceeded to talk the other student through the problem using the camera as her “eyes” and the speaker in the classroom as her voice.

So What About The Future?

How does this help us now? There are a lot of alternative models out there that can support teaching and learning that do not require instructors and students to endanger their health. Technology is not the answer at all, but it can facilitate the community needed to make authentic education possible. There was nothing really revolutionary about what we did at Tacoma Community College. There were already people doing courses like this. In fact, the early Connectivist MOOCs  with Siemens and Downes, and Cormier’s Rhizomtic Education: Community as Curriculum, right on up to the ideas around Open Pedagogy, all point to answers on how to teach and learn in a time of pandemic, or any crisis. We are actually in a multilayered crisis of health, social justice, and access to education. The fact that universities are so focused on tuition and football right now points to the failure of the traditional models. Classes with multimodal delivery, student-directed work, flexible schedules and geography are long over due.

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Turn-You-In: Stop Plagiarism Before It Happens

Students as hackers.

Do you REALLY know your students?

Do we really know who are students are? Especially online students? What kind of student takes an online class? Our research has shown that most students who cheat in online classes are the kind of student who also takes online classes. What do we do about rampant online cheating? There are services that detect plagiarism WHEN it happens, but wouldn’t it be better if we could protect the reputation of the institution BEFORE it happens? This is where Turn-You-In enters the stage.

What is Turn-You-In?

We at GBC Education Consulting are designing a system of three artificially intelligent systems that each analyze and cross-reference student data: past performance, grades, club memberships and social hygiene, demographics, biometrics, k- 12 permanent records, and retinal scans, and predict who will commit plagiarism, even before the student knows that they are about to do it.

It Sounds Complicated and Expensive

It is complicated: the biometrics monitoring system and retinal scanning that tracks student behavior throughout the school year generates amounts of data that most colleges are not prepared to manage, but in a couple of years, the system pays for itself. Make sure that you have a policy in place that says that students who are expelled for cheating will not get a refund in tuition. According to the International Center for Academic Integrity, 68% of undergraduates report that they have committed some form of plagiarism at one time or another. Imagine a system that will allow you to harvest tuition from expelled students AND raise the academic integrity of your institution! It is complicated: the three systems of pre-cognitively intelligent AI, the databases and server farms for managing student data are all located at a “secure” undisclosed, foreign location to prevent hackers from gaining access and to help manage any legal complications that you, as an administrator will not want to have to worry about.

What About Mistakes?

If 68% of the student population is already going to plagiarize any way, the odds of a “mistake” are few. Occasionally, in tests, one of the databases will rarely disagree with the others but these minority reports are are routinely discarded as glitches which can happen in any complex system.

This is your big chance to get in on the ground floor of the future of pre-cognitive surveillance education. Contact this blog about investing now!

Student caught plagiarsing

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Evolving Pedagogy from Crisis to Competency

This post came out of a brainstorming sketch I did while trying to think of ways to help us adapt our way through this crisis and emerge with stronger courses, programs, and institutions. This isn’t how institutions typically behave: typically they do everything they can to maintain the status quo even when it is no longer to their own or anyone else’s benefit (i.e. two party political systems). Survival of the institution can become more important than what the institution was meant to do in the first place. All of that is to say that even though I think we should change, it is often difficult to change in a way that benefits institutions for the long-term. But what could that look like?

Planning for managing online courses through a crisis means that, at the beginning, a lot of short cuts are taken. But as we make these shortcuts to address an emergency, we have an opportunity to plan an evolving elearning strategy that will allow us to develop courses and programs that are more flexible using existing models (i.e. hybrid courses, open pedagogy, etc.). The strategies and pedagogy implied in my chart are my own preferences. I am advocating here for a process not any particular solution: that will depend on the culture, resources, and vision of each institution.

What is a crisis can also be an opportunity for change that will help learning outcomes, costs, and access. For instance, if we use this as an opportunity to increase the use of OER and open source tools, we will be better able to meet the students needs without having to consider cost in the middle of a crisis. Commercial education tech businesses and corporate publishers rely on infrastructures that may not exist in a time of financial crisis. We should be building our own infrastructures as institutions or consortia. This is already happening elsewhere.

More importantly, we can’t rely on corporations who are willing to “help” by giving us temporary discounts or “free” temporary access. It is a gamble that the company will still be standing after a big shake-up in business and education. Even without a crisis, one of the problems with corporate ed tech is that the businesses get bought and sold easily and not always to the benefit of the consumers (i.e. Blackboard and Angel Learning). We should start working on long-term solutions while we manage short-term challenges.

Each stage of the recovery from the pandemic could allow us to do more. We have an opportunity to adapt our institutions into colleges and universities that are more flexible, responsive, and accessible (I include diversity, inclusion, equity as part of my definition of accessibility). My timeline below has everything neatly spaced out as if there are equal periods of time represented. Right now, we have no real idea when the crisis period will end or how long a recovery period we would need. Again, I put this together as a way to think about change.

We know that when a crisis ends, nothing really returns to normal, but we get to choose who we will be when the crisis wanes. A crisis only exacerbates already existing problems. In order for institutions to survive, they will have to learn to grow out of those problems.

I am interested in your ideas about how we can change as institutions to be more adaptable and accessible as we go through this crisis.

I made this in LucidChart. I have this as a pdf if you are interested, and the image below is a png.

Timeline of the connection to post Covid19 infection conditions and resultant possible pedagogy.



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NW eLearning Provides Free Webinar on Online Teaching

Once again, the elearning community is stepping up to take care of teachers in this time of crisis. The NW eLearning Community in particular has sent out this message providing support:

Dear Colleagues,

Schools in the Pacific Northwest are responding quickly to mobilize distance learning resources; NWeLearn is here to help. We are offering a free webinar specifically for instructors who don’t normally teach online.

The webinar will address:

  •  Strategic planning for online and remote course design
  • Student engagement and participation
  • Discussions that work
  • Effective feedback
  • Demonstrating student learning (test alternatives)
  • Accessibility

Our panelists for this webinar will be:

  • Amy Spielmaker, MSEd, Western Oregon University
  • Greg Zobel, Ph.D, Western Oregon University
  • Tim Chase, MSEd, Impact Virtual Learning
  • Ana Thompson, CPACC, University of Washington,
  • Emily Householder, MSEd, Intel
  • Velda Arnaud, Ph.D, Blue Mountain Community College
  • [Host] Weiwei Zhang, Ph.D, Oregon State University

Time of the webinar: Tuesday, March 24, at 11am, PT
Details: (scroll down to see the webinar section)

Sign up to receive recording: Fill out this 2-question form

(No registration is required, but attendance is capped at 300. To receive updates, you may subscribe to NWeLearn email list by going to the NWeLearn website community page.)

The webinar features six strong strategies for teaching with online platforms and web-based tools. We will have a panel discussion webinar featuring six experts from different schools in the Pacific Northwest. Each presenter will focus on a topic for 5-7 minutes, then the webinar will transition to the next topic.

If you are an educator, this webinar gives you tools you can adapt quickly to teach effectively in a new environment. If you support educators as an instructional designer or online ed specialist, we hope you can point some of your educators to the webinar for additional support. We will offer examples of effective online and/or remote teaching; each of these can be employed easily by instructors with minimal effort.

During and after the webinar, there will be Q/A opportunities.


NWeLearn Community

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Calendar of eLearning Events

Stephen Downes has created a calendar of free online events for faculty going online due to the Covid19 crisis, his note is here:

If you are hosting a live webcast or online event intended to help people create an online community, class or conference, and if this event is FREE, then please be sure to submit your event listing here. To view the events calendar, click on this link (I’ve been having issues with the calendar permissions, so please let me know if you’re having difficulties accessing this).

The original posting is from his newsletter but I am spreading this far and wide because as usual educators are stepping up to the plate in the spirit of generosity and collegiality that we sometimes lose sight of.

Thanks again Stephen for thinking of this.

Lets spread the word! If there are other calendars and sources of information, post them in the comments below and I will help get it out to the elearning community.

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eCampus Ontario’s H5P Studio

The Coat of Arms for OntarioI was in an interesting webinar Thursday, March 5th hosted by eCampus Ontario to take a peek at their “H5P Studio.” This was a part of Open Education Week. Basically what they have done is set up a Drupal site (one could use WordPress instead) and it looks like they are using the free h5p plug-in for Drupal. Their idea is to have the faculty create learning objects, have all the content licensed with Creative Commons (or not) so that it is shareable. From what I can tell on the page’s source code, making new content on the site with H5P is part of making a “new post” in Drupal that includes form fields that the creators fill out to basically license and catalog the new content.

Catalogue of H5P Content | eCampusOntario H5P Studio

There seems to be no licensing fees involved in this set up. From their site:

“eCampusOntario H5P Studio is your one stop shop to create, share, and discover interactive learning objects. This site uses H5P, an open source plugin, to allow content authors to easily create interactive content for their courses or other instructional projects. For more information about H5P, please refer to their website. H5P Studio is provided as part of our set of Open Publishing tools. This platform was developed by the innovative team at Wilfrid Laurier University Library. Special thanks to Yasin Dahi, Joanne Oud, Dillon Moore, and Gohar Ashoughian for their participation in this project. For all other inquiries, please feel to contact us at

I am interested in this because I am looking for resources to replace inaccessible learning objects. Many free widgets that faculty use cannot be read by a screen reader but H5P is mostly accessible and they are quite transparent about that, unlike other companies.

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Instructional Design and States of Emergency

Here in Washington State, we have schools closing because of the Corona virus. We have the added burden of students who do not have access to the internet at home. This is not unlike other obstructions/opportunities/challenges I have faced in the past as an instructional designer, for instance, getting curriculum to prisons. Bryan Alexander, who has been doing some excellent writing on education and the virus has a post entitled “COVID-19, academia, and the big push online: an update” that sums up a lot of these issues and succinctly points out the following:

“…the digital divide means unequal access to bandwidth, which can limit use of video and large files. Faculty are not universally schooled, practiced in, and happy about teaching online. Campuses may lack sufficient staff to enable a big, fast online push. This is also happening during the middle of academic terms in many instance, which makes the transition even more difficult.”

Map of Covid19 infections.

By way of a relevant case, Lindsay McKenzie in a recent article in Inside HigherEd discusses the transition that universities in Shanghai have recently made in shutting down their physical college and moving rapidly online: “Preparing to teach a course online for the first time usually takes several months. Faculty at institutions in China have done it in less than three weeks — a remarkable feat.” (Emphasis is mine.) In an emergency situation, all of the things that we know are important in successful online learning might go out the window (hopefully the situation is only temporary). A lot of the best practices in online learning, such as discussion, group work, community building will probably have to take a back seat to just content delivery.

I am wondering what templates could be built in an LMS or in WordPress that would allow faculty to learn the tools while they build out courses. I think a lot could be done in three weeks. But wouldn’t it be better to have courses all ready prepared for anything?  Some tools to consider could include the following for fully offline situations:

  • Spoodle: LMS on a thumb drive
    Stephen Grono discusses his stand-alone version of Moodle, called “Spoodle” that fits on a thumb drive in this Moodle forum. All of the student’s course materials could be accessed through a thumb drive that runs Moodle.
  • Canvas LMS offline
    An instructor can export a Canvas course to make it available as HTML – it does not include assessments or discussion forums. This could then be put on a thumb drive and sent out to students.  Canvas course materials can also be exported as ePub files for
  • Internet Essentials from Comcast
    This was a suggestion from a conversation Lucy Gray is currently having on Facebook about elearning tools to support possible school closures in Illinois. Many students may not have internet at home but their data plan might include using their phone as a wifi hotspot.

My critical question as an instructional designer is how to build in the flexibility to a curriculum that it can be nearly instantly adapted in the case of an emergency. This feels like something that should be akin to Universal Design for Learning. It sounds simple at first but when thinking about managing student interactions, assessment, communication, content delivery, etc. It begins to feel like designing a house that can convert into an airplane, and actually fly, and then be folded up Ikea flatpack style and sent to the Philippines.

Questions I am interested in further exploring include:

  • How do we teach faculty how to teach online in 3 weeks? What is the bare minimum they need to know?
  • What kind of access do are students have in a state of emergency?
  • What should we be doing differently in our design of course shells and templates for faculty?
  • How do we best help the student transition to online learning in times of emergency?

The illustration below is incomplete, but I think you get the idea. How do we design classes for any given condition?

States of emergency and resources to meet them.

I would be interested in learning more about plans that your institution may have in place to get faculty and students up to speed around possible campus closures. Comment below, find me on Twitter @geoffcain, or drop me an email at


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Browsing and Downloading Smithsonian CC0 Content

Luce Foundation CenterThis is here as a quick note to some faculty I am working with on courses that are (ideally) using open content. The Smithsonian announced that they were removing copyright restrictions to nearly 3 million from their collections. This includes images and data from across the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives, and the National Zoo.  You can read more about that on the Smithsonian Open Access page. But the question always comes up when an institution releases open content: how do we access it? The Smithsonian listed places in their FAQ but not everything in the list had a link. I have fixed that below:

You can find Smithsonian CC0 assets in the following places:

The CC0 license is a Creative Commons license that covers public domain – these materials are free to use in any way with no attribution. They do, however, provide the caveat that the CC0 only applies to copyright, so you may still need someone else’s permission to use a CC0-designated digital asset. For more information, see the Smithsonian Terms of Use. For instance, the Smithsonian may have an image of Dr. Martin Luther King, but his estate may have claims to the use of his image.

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The Text and the Creation of Meaning

Cover of the book One of the most exciting books I read last year was Aviya Kushner’s The Grammar of God: A Journey into the Words and Worlds of the Bible (2015). I am not a particularly religious person, and it has been years since I seriously read the bible, so why am I so interested in this book? It comes to me at a particularly interesting time in my career as an educator. In this book, Kushner describes her experiences and relationship to the bible growing up in an orthodox Jewish household. The “bible” for Kushner, is not just the text but includes the commentaries, notes, and annotations that go back at least a millennia. On top of that is the layer of discussion with family, friends, and teachers, combined with her own life experience as one who has Hebrew as her primary language. Kushner is a writer and a poet and brings all of this to The Grammar of God. In other words, this is not just a document: it is a living text that generates meaning and illumination as it is discussed. Kushner went to the Iowa Writers Workshop for grad school and was shocked by what she was hearing in her Bible as Literature class: it was her first time hearing the text out of her cultural context. There was also the problem of translation. The Hebrew text is free of punctuation and vowels which make some translations very difficult. The purpose of a translation, the experience and background of the translator, its cultural context all come into play in translation. Kushner could have written a straight analysis of texts and culture, but she didn’t. It is also memoir: she writes about personal connections, family, friends, teachers, and religious people in her life who have informed her reading and experience of a text.

Okay, so what does all of this have to do with education or technology?

If your focus in elearning is on content and tools (text and “platforms” usually), then maybe nothing. If you are interested in how we generate meaning from information, how we create knowledge from information, then this is pretty much everything. This book does a lot: it is about memoir, translation and culture, but it is also about the lenses with which we see a text.

  • What are we reading?
  • How do other people see this text?
  • How does what I am reading connect with my experience of the world?
  • How do others understand this text in light of their experience?
  • What are the differences between our readings?

You will only find those things out by connecting with others and one of the roles of the teacher in the classroom is to facilitate those connections. The teacher can facilitate those connections between the students, between other texts, other classrooms, the author of the text, as well as other writers and thinkers.

I don’t particularly believe in a static text. A text is something to be engaged. When we read a book, we bring our past experiences of life and of reading to that text. This is why reflection (through annotation, notes, journaling, etc.) are such an important part of reading. There is such a thing as passive reading – there are certain kinds of recreational reading that are meant to be passive (e.g. Romance novels and Science Fiction of the “Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids” variety). But one of the goals of active critical reading is to discover those connections through engagement.

I have recently been exploring annotation methods on digital texts through tools like This is basically a social annotation tool. I have used this with the Annotating Engelbart project and it was an incredible experience. I not only discovered new things about the text we were reading and my fellow annotators, but I learned that there was more to my own readings. It is a hard form of learning to describe. Text, discussion, debate,  and experience (reflection) together create or uncover new meanings.

A page of the Talmud.

The first page of Tractate Pesahim from the Babylonian Talmud by Thomas Shoemaker


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