Things go better with print?

Napoleon ReadingI had some spam article from Skylight Press pushed to my Facebook feed by Business Insider. The clickbait reads “A new study shows that students learn way more effectively from print textbooks than screens.” So first off, it is not new, it is from 2017. Secondly, you won’t be surprised by how hard it is to measure “way more effectively.” The research that the article supposedly references does not make any such conclusion. The research says that “overall, results suggest that medium plays an influential role under certain text or task conditions or for certain readers.”

The article gives some fairly weak reasons to possibly and maybe considering print over text but then it goes into my favorite trope: “There may be economic and environmental reasons to go paperless. But there’s clearly something important that would be lost with print’s demise. In our academic lives, we have books and articles that we regularly return to. The dog-eared pages of these treasured readings contain lines of text etched with questions or reflections.”

Or we don’t. I would typically ignore articles like this (TL;DR?) but it caught my attention because of something pretty near wonderful that happened to me this week. I am working on an article about Napoleon and Goethe, and I am looking for Napoleon’s copy of Werther (his favorite book). Very ambitious of me. I can’t find it but I did find someone who had. Sarah De Laredo wrote a pamphlet in 1927 that is a description of Napoleon’s copy of Werther. It was in two libraries: the University of Alberta and Yale. I sent a one line email to the special collections at Yale and they very graciously walked me through registering as an independent scholar and requesting a digital copy of the pamphlet. I got that today. I cannot afford to fly to New Haven; I do not have access to these libraries. The digital world provides people like me a connection to a world of scholarship that would be forever closed off and forgotten otherwise.

Ironically, I wound up reading “The Sorrows of Young Werther” from on my Kindle and my phone because I really didn’t want to buy a copy of it. I understood the text, highlighted it, and made notes just like a real book. I am not sure what my preferences are here – I think the digital or print question is a false dichotomy. I needed the information, so I was motivated to engage digitally. On top of all this, there are now online annotation tools like that allow users to highlight and comment on texts privately or as a community. In other words, in the future, someone might wonder what my thoughts were on a text and they don’t have to go to the library or have a library make a copy – they can go online and look at my annotations.

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NWeLearning Community

The NWeLearning Community is not just a conference but the collective intelligence and resources of some very remarkable people in elearning from across the North West and beyond. We are currently using Slack as a community building tool. Here is a note from our chair, Tim Chase:

Did you know?  NWeLearn has discussion channels where members are sharing job openings and talking about other conferences and gatherings of interest.  Deep discounts for NWMET and DesignCon conferences are currently posted; come take a look!

Haven’t visited yet? is the place to get started.

Our call for session proposals is open for another 11 days.  The submission process is painless.  Today is a good day for submitting session proposals!
To submit a session for consideration, use this Submission Form.  And thanks–we couldn’t do this without you!

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Open Learning 2019

I am getting ready for Open Learning 2019. I am interested in this because in cMOOCs, I have met some fantastic people which led to some great projects. I also want to keep up on the world of open and OER, but I am particularly interested in open pedagogy and practices. I am posting this to make sure my blog is connected to Open Ed Hub and also at 58, it is handy to have the relevant links and info all in one spot 🙂

From Open Learning Hub: “Open Learning ’19, a cMOOC about open learning now in its third iteration will begin on March 17th and run for three weeks. Week 1 will be preceded by a “pre-cMOOC” week for anyone who is new to connected learning.” 

And then this notice was posted by Sue Erickson on her blog:

Open Learning ’19, a cMOOC about open learning now in its third iteration will begin on March 17th and run for three weeks. Week 1 will be preceded by a “pre-cMOOC” week for anyone who is new to connected learning, new to MOOCs (and especially to cMOOCs) or new to open learning concepts. Starting on March 10th, all are welcome to join in for the pre-cMOOC week led by Gardner Campbell, Open Learning’s original hub director.

The schedule for Open Learning ’19:

3/17-3/23 Week 1: Open Educational Resources and Open Access

3/24-3/30 Week 2: Open Pedagogy

3/31-4/6 Week 3: Open Faculty Development

These are topics that we’ve explored in previous iterations of Open Learning, and you will find a wealth of resources already on the Hub site:

To begin, start tuning in to the hashtag on Twitter: #OpenLearning19 and syndicate your blog to the Hub (don’t have a blog, this is a great chance to start one!) and use #OpenLearning19 for relevant posts. See instructions in the “Join Up!” link.

I look forward to learning with you!

Your humble Hub Director for Open Learning ’19,

Sue Erickson

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Engelbart: Language as a Tool

I am still working on the Annotating Engelbart project. Gardner gave us a “syllabus,” in a way, that had a timeline and what we were going to read together, and in my usual fashion, I have taken off from there and am now wandering the hinterlands of poetry, programming, and consciousness. I think I lost a weekend or two filled with Engelbart, reading annotations, reading other documents of the time, blogging and tweeting, and watching car commercials from 1962 in Youtube (you know how that can happen).

I got a lot out of this week’s featured annotator, Claudia Ceraso, an ESL teacher from Argentina who has an interesting blog to check out. She has been navigating this space and blogging at least since 2006 AND she has an education background which brings a much needed and refreshing perspective to something, that on the surface, can seem pretty technical (Augmenting Human Intellect).

I appreciated Claudia’s perspective on language. We need people whose ears and minds are tuned into language to look at work like this. I was in college studying English at a time and place that thought that Chomsky was central to understanding language and thinking. There have been a number of theories about language out since then but nothing that answer the questions he was asking. It makes sense to that most everything in nature has some kind in pattern baked into it (physical laws, DNA, etc.), so why not language and thought? All the scientists are really arguing about is how deep the structure goes or where it begins and ends. One of my favorite essays on technology, Codognet’s The Semiotics of the Web, makes the point this way: “the success of the computer as a universal information-processing machine lies essentially in the fact that there exists a universal language in which many different kinds of information can be encoded and that this language can be mechanized. This would concretize the well-known dream of Leibniz of a universal language that would be both a lingua characteristica, allowing the ‘’perfect’’ description of knowledge by exhibiting the ‘’real characters’’ of concepts and things, and a calculus ratiocinator, making it possible for the mechanization of reasoning.”

Any way, my point is that getting any real clarity on Engelbart or other technical projects is incomplete without the context – the connections to language, thought, and history that the Humanities can provide. All the things that are wrong with technology comes from technology’s divorce from this context through specialization. For instance, Zuckerberg and Facebook is what happens when techies don’t have to study ethics.

I also appreciated that Gardner was thoughtful enough to invite someone from the other side of the world – again, a refreshing context. We take our easy access to the internet for granted here. I too have found myself thinking of Cortazar, Borges, and semiotics while on this expedition. I think there are literary answers to many technical questions. That is what art is for. So a big thanks to both of you.


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Women’s Day: Women in Philosophy

Hildegard of Bingen and her nunsThe Oxford University Press has an annoying post for Women’s Day that claims to be a timeline for “Landmark Moments for Women in Philosophy.” They weren’t really even trying.  For Oxford, the earliest woman philosopher they came up with was Elena Cornaro Episcopia who was awarded a Phd. in 1678. So what they really mean is women who are  eligible for the tenure track! They skipped the Ancient World all together from Hypatia to Hildegard of Bingen, and never mind anyone from East. There is a more complete list at Wikipedia:

Happy Women’s Day indeed!

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Engelbart: Bootstrapping and Symbiosis

Okay, for anyone reading these series of posts on Engelbart, here is where I begin to turn this huge ship towards pedagogy and ed tech. As I read through Engelbart’s Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework for the Annotating Engelbart project, I am struck by what a different kind of thinker Engelbart is. He is very optimistic, for instance, about our ability to learn and more importantly, work together, and believing in our capacity to solve problems. It may not be just idealism or optimism. Coincidentally enough, I ran across an interesting article that points to humans being hard-wired for cooperation.

Jonathan Birch wrote an article for the philosophy department’s blog at The London School called “How do we know how to act together?” In it he begins with asking us to think of a simple act of cooperation: “two people pick up a sofa together, carry it into a room, and put it down on the floor. Simple though it is, this is an amazing thing: it’s something that sets us apart from all other primates.” He discusses what he calls “joint know-how” and looks at where he thinks it comes from and how it works. Other species may have moments of cooperation, but we seem to have perfected it as a species through what he calls “Active Mutual Enablement.” This is our innate ability to monitor, predict, adjust our behavior to match the movement of others, and most importantly, our ability actively enable this behavior in others. What about the other primates? Monkey typing ShakespeareOther animals are able to work together but not to the degree that we have. I personally don’t believe that a million monkeys typing for a million years will write Shakespeare (although they might make improvements on the Adjunct Faculty Handbook).

It is a fascinating article because the ideas in it connect with Engelbart’s bootstrapping ideas as well as Howard Rheingold’s discussions of cooperation. We are fortunate enough to have Howard as a featured annotator in the Annotating Engelbart project. The whole point as I see it in Engelbart is that we have a largely untapped capacity to cooperate intellectually and solve problems that naturally emerges from intellectual augmentation. Part of the bootstrapping idea is that we would create new processes and ways of cooperating to solve those problems. It is not just about creating the artifacts, or tools, but about how we collaborate using those tools. Engelbart took it for granted that we would use the tools to help individuals cooperate with others. Howard has done a lot of interesting work on cooperation about which he says “I see a new story emerging about how humans get things done together. The outlines of this new narrative can be seen in recent evidence that contradicts old assumptions about human selfishness versus altruism, self-interest versus collective action. What could be more important than understanding how people cooperate and fail to cooperate?

And so this is where I am taking this into pedagogy. What happens when we ask ourselves questions about teaching and learning like:

  • How does my curriculum enable the students to continuously work towards the augmentation of their own intellect?
  • Am I providing my students with opportunities to cooperate and work together?
  • Does my curriculum stress the importance of cooperation?
  • How do my students understand the process of working together?

This goes beyond the idea of “group work” or a semester project: I would like students to understand the power and usefulness of collective, collaborative work. I am sure there are other questions I will be formulating as I continue with this project. If you have some suggestions or ideas, please comment below or post them to Twitter via the hashtag #augmentintellect.

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Engelbart: On Teaching Programming

Advertisement for a Commodore Pet ComputerThis is my expanded response to the Jon Udell video that is part of the Annnotating Engelbart project. I appreciate the time Jon took to participate in this work.

In Jon’s discussion with Gardner, he wonders if it is practical to teach students programming. I just wanted to add a note about programming and education. While getting my English degree from Sonoma State, I took a symbolic logic class from a professor who used programming as a form of symbolic logic – no one was meant to take calculus first or anything like that – it was fairly simple programming which was meant to infer a Chomskian view of language and thinking. It was a useful class that got us thinking about (and applying) concepts in linguistics, philosophy, and logic. Second, teaching the concepts of programming does not require students to memorize lists of commands. With programs like Scratch, from MIT, students can quickly grasp core concepts of programming. As an adult basic education instructor, I have seen first hand how a lack of technical literacy can paralyze students. The less the students know about tech, the less access they have to the benefits of tech and the more likely they will be victims of it.

Back in the early 90s, I was a Special Education Aide at a Junior High School. Our classroom had one very old computer and the students were able to get on it one at a time to work on papers. I asked for more computers for that classroom and the  attitude of the administration was that “why would special education kids need computers?” I was pretty outraged. I immediately left campus and drove to the district warehouse to talk to  them. I asked if they had any extra computers. They said yes and took me into a warehouse that had tons of unused computers – practically floor to ceiling. These computers were considered out of date and ready to be dumpstered. In that room, was the history of education technology up to that time. There were Commodore Pets, Apples II, III, and Lisas. There were every kind of printer and peripheral you could imagine including biometric inputs (“lie detector” kits). I loaded up as much of Apple II computers and gear as I could in my car and went back to the school and set them up. I started the students playing games, making art, animations – in other words playing around. The programs were written in Apple BASIC. When the students were tired of the limitations of the programs, we explored how to change them and how to create their own programs. Not everyone was interested in looking under the hood, but that class certainly did not leave that year afraid of technology. A few of the students went on to tech careers or engineering later on.

How does this tie into Engelbart? Many at the school district would say that there was no technology available for the students because they only think of tech in terms of something that has to be directly funded and “up to date.” I think the combination of resourcefulness, curiosity, and playfulness allows us to think creatively about using any available technology in new ways, especially if we start, as Engelbart does, with purpose.


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Engelbart: Technology and How It Gets That Way

Animated gif of Doug Engelbart presenting online in 1968.This is one in a series of postings I am doing as part of the Engelbart annotation project. There will be some randomness to these notes but somehow, given the source document we are annotating, I think that is appropriate.  I am thinking a lot about education technology as I read through Engelbart’s Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework for the Annotating Engelbart project. The vision of where technology and teaching and learning could be is hampered by our lack of vision.

It is refreshing to read this and to touch bases with the origins of much of what we do in education technology: especially after hanging out in Seattle last year consulting with education start-ups. Much of what goes on in education start-up culture is centered around figuring out how to package existing tools into learning experiences. That sounds great in theory but what it means is that the tools quickly begin to shape the learning. And this is what we would expect in a post-McLuhan world. We shape the technologies and the technologies begin to shape us. Engelbart asks us to envision something far greater though. His framework for solving problems asks us to envision shaping better tools in concert with artifacts (tools) language, methodology, and training.

How does he define these? Engelbart defines “artifacts” as physical objects designed to provide for human comfort, for the manipulation of things or materials, and for the manipulation of symbols. He defines language as ” the way in which the individual parcels out the picture of his world into the concepts that his mind uses to model that world, and the symbols that he attaches to those concepts and uses in consciously manipulating the concepts (‘thinking’).” He defines methodology as “the methods, procedures, strategies, etc., with which an individual organizes his goal-centered (problem-solving) activity.”And training as “the conditioning needed by the human being to bring his skills in using Means 1, 2, and 3 to the point where they are operationally effective.” In other words, to really solve problems, all have to be used in concert.

Currently we in edtech tend to take tools, processes, and concepts from the business world (analytics, for instance), tear them out of context and drop them into the schools. We do this often because the technologies are new and different – the feeling that we need to keep up with the latest. But we mostly apply the new technologies to the same problems in the same way we used the old technologies (e.g. treating websites as books or magazines). This is highly problematic as the current adoptions of new technologies seem to be completely divorced from discussions of consequences and ethics. And even more importantly, the tools are divorced from purpose and context. Why are we doing the things that we do around elearning?

One of my favorite comic strips was Hägar the Horrible, a marauding Viking whose vision of himself and the world is often at odds with reality. In one comic strip, Hägar returns from a looting expedition with a present for his wife. He tells her it was ripped off a tub in a palace in Paris. He then turns on the faucet and when nothing happens, he says “That’s funny, when I turned it on in the palace, water came out.” I have the same feeling when “innovators” dump business technology into a classroom without considering student privacy issues, accessibility, or cost.

Engelbart’s vision can help solve this problem because we could ask, how does this new technology enable us to solve problems in a new way? How does this technology increase our capacity to solve problems?

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RISC Survey: Challenges to Student Success

These are my notes on the latest RISC Survey called “What Challenges to Success Do Community College Students Face?” from January 2019. I am mostly concerned with the education technology aspects of this report. Much of the report deals with social issues and support which I know that many programs on college campuses are already there to address (access to housing, food, etc.). The real solutions to these problems revolve around faculty training in online learning, online tutoring, student training in how to be an online student, and open textbooks (as well as open education practices). None of the solutions require new software, any gee-whiz widgets or ideas. None of the solutions are particularly fast and easy; therefore, elearning will still be listed as one of the problems for some time to come. 

Tutoring and Support
Students ask colleges to “Offer more weekend hours for the Tutoring Center and the Library – or later hours for each. With working 8-5 M-F, and classes in the evening well past 8 PM” and they go on to point out that “there isn’t much opportunity…to visit the library or the Tutoring Center.” We have to think differently about how we support our students. More and more students are coming to community colleges who not only may not have support from families, but are working and have families themselves. This means that their time is greatly impacted and a traditional campus schedule of 8-5 M-F is not a practical one. Here, online tutoring is another possible answer.

Cost of college and the cost of living is a significant challenge: “if a book is really expensive a student is not going to purchase it making them behind in classes.” We have already made significant inroads to address this here in WA state with our support of open textbooks.

“Our survey results bear this out. Nearly one in five respondents indicated that parking presented a challenge to college success. Among those who indicated parking as a challenge, nearly all (86 %) reported difficulty parking on or near campus.” What is interesting about this to me is how much the student populations at community colleges have increased while the offerings have decreased. Online classes could be a significant answer to this problem.

Online Classes
It is significant that online classes are listed as a problem when they are a possible solution to so many of the other issues in this survey. All of the problems listed in the survey are faculty preparation problems, course design problems, and student preparation issues. Lets look at the following issues from the survey:

  • Difficulty learning material on my own 53 %
    • This is a student preparation issue – students need to learn time management and have a realistic idea about how much time it takes to take an online class
  • Lack of interaction with faculty 44 %
    • This is a faculty preparation issue. Faculty need to understand that the number one issue around student success and retention in online classes is interactivity. Faculty need to learn how to facilitate interactivity online.
  • Online classes 21 % (n = 1,295)
  • Difficulty keeping up because of no regular class times 38 %
    • Student preparation. Students need to learn how to manage their time effectively for reading and engaging online.
  • Difficulty using course technology 27 %
    • Student prep. Students need adequate training in how to be an online student
  • Lack of interaction with other students 25 %
    • This is both a faculty issue and a course design issue. Student-student and faculty-student interaction needs to be built into the lessons
  • Difficulty taking exams at testing center
    • This is an instructional design issue. Why are we doing this? Online courses can utilize a wide variety of assessments besides high stakes testing: course portfolios, projects, and group work can take the place of exams. The research shows that there is an equal to no difference in the amount of cheating that happens online versus face-to-face: and that if the test is worth more than 20%

Their conclusions include “…convenient online classes are not necessarily the answer to making things better for busy students. Our findings suggest that online courses are not without their problems. An investment in online instructional support may help improve these classes and alleviate some of the concerns students have about them.” This is access without support is not access (Tinto). I think it will also take a radical change in how some colleges view online courses. Some colleges use online classes as rewards for tenure because the thinking is that online classes can take faculty less time or that they can “teach in their pajamas.” Some colleges I have worked at gave online classes to faculty who were getting ready to retire as a way to free up classroom space and help ease the faculty member into retirement (clear out the dead wood) – you can imagine how successful those classes were. Faculty have to learn how to teach online just as students need to learn how to be online students.

Online tutoring, faculty certificates in online teaching, an online course for students to learn how to be online students, and open textbooks can solve many of these problems. I would love to talk to anyone facing these problems in their college. I have a lot of solutions that I have implemented in many colleges and that are discussed elsewhere in this blog. 

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No school like old school…

The DEC PDP 6 computer from 1964Next month I am joining a group online that is going to read and annotate Engelbart’s Doug Engelbart’s 1962 research report and manifesto, Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework. I first read about this in Gardner Cambell’s blog posting on the project. I am glad we are doing this. Innovation and advances are a beautiful thing but sometimes we throw the baby out with the bath along with some really cool font designs. I first twigged to that idea sometime around 2003 when I had attended one of Edward Tufte’s seminars while working for Harcourt eLearning.  At that seminar he talked a little about Katzoff’s “Clarity in Technical Report Writing” and I don’t think I have found a better example of clear writing and how it works any where else. There is no great deep meaning to this posting other than a note to myself to remember to also look at where we have been when we think we know where we are going.

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