Tag Archives: Stephen Downes

More Experimenting with Flipboard Magazines and Other Tools

Since I began playing around with Flipboard‘s magazine features, I have grown curious to see how the development takes shape. It is clear that it is missing features that would be advantageous. As cool as it can be, it is definitely limited in functionality and a little bit more closed than I would like. Based on how quickly the browser based, web version of magazines appeared after their rollout, I am guessing that new features should be added before too long. At least I am hopeful.

One issue that for me has to do with the commenting feature. When flipping an item while reading on the iPad, a space for comments appears when determining which magazine will receive the additional content. However, it is unclear to me where the comments actually go. It seems more likely to appear if the item is flipped using a web browser, but that didn’t seem to work consistently. I had a difficult time trying to replicate comment visibility. At one point, I had an added item to the magazine, which appeared as a block with a portion of the comment quoted in a large font that served as a link to opening the article’s original URL in a new tab. It was not terribly attractive and kind of defeated the part of the reason for using the magazine, its slick interface.

So I suddenly had the beginnings of a mildly interesting problem. How can I add some short bits of commentary to the articles that I continue to add to Flipboard magazine, with its new, slick interface, adding content to my blog in the process.

Considering, how much online reading I do, I thought I would try to leverage some of it in a more creative and productive way. This was in part what compelled me to begin curating content using Flipboard’s magazine. I have always curated content but not necessarily in the most public way nor with the smoothest workflow. Nevertheless, as the new school year starts, I wanted to try and make more of an effort to share some thoughts and practice, as well as look for ways to leverage what I already do in a more efficient way.

Plus, I have always liked what Stephen Downes has done using his gRSShopper system for generating his daily and weekly newsletters. I have long subscribed to his newsletters. However, I have never quite harnessed enough effort or time to actually try installing and using gRSShopper on my own.

As a result, I dusted off my ancient and unused Tumblr site.

Honestly, I have always struggled with how best to use some of the micro-blog sites, like the late Posterous and Tumblr, that fill the space in-between status updates and conventional blogging. I have had accounts for experimenting and such but don’t always make great use of them. Also, I have also struggled to write regularly enough for any blog, despite the desire to keep this one fresh.

Tumblr has grown more flexible in making it relatively easy to share snippets of the web, a quote, and image, a link, with a greater flexibility and space than Twitter, which I also use but not as regularly.  Thus, it seemed natural to marry it with the content I started collecting in Flipboard. They also iterate with one another, although not perhaps as smoothly as I would like. Still, Tumblr could easily store comments about the articles I flipped.

The trouble is that there are only so many places people will follow. It can get exhausting tracking individuals across the ever widening web landscape. So I wanted to use this blog as a kind of hub.

Enter IFTTT, a site that lets anyone automate certain connections between web services. Of course, it would have been a lot easier if Flipboard worked with IFTTT, but this is where using Tumblr, which plays nice with Flipboard, really became the crossover tool of choice. Now, I had a functional use for my long dormant Tumblr account. It now feeds this blog with a stream of readings and reactions, that more or less mirrors my Flipboard magazine Teaching Today, making that curated content available in a slightly different manner, complete with commentary.

I suspect what is added here on the blog may even extend beyond the magazine, which I am trying to keep more focused on social and political issues impacting teaching in public schools. Regardless, It is another small experiment that I thought worth trying and sharing. Considering Yahoo’s purchase of Tumblr, this could all be irrelevant in a few months, should they doom Tumblr to the Internet graveyard, but it works for now.

Preparing for a Clash of MOOCs

ETMOOC LogoWhile I am absolutely loving my experience with ETMOOC, I am about to try my first run at an xMOOC. Tomorrow, I will begin a HarvardX course, HLS1x: Copyright. I am excited.

Copyright is a topic that I have been chasing on my own for a few years now and one where I think that educators must have greater command. It seems professionally irresponsible to remain ignorant on the subject anymore. Moreover, while I like Creative Commons, I reject it as the safe and easy option as it is routinely presented in the edtech arena.

On the most fundamental level educators need to now more about copyright not only to help ourselves and students avoid infringement, but exercise our rights to fair use and resist the longstanding encroachment on that provision. I have long admired the work of Renee Hobbs and her Media Education Lab, now at University of Rhode Island. For any educators keen on learning about copyright, I recommend you start there. Yet, this Harvardx class will be a much deeper dive into the subject than Hobbs’ must-read Copyright Clarity. It is a course being offered via the Harvard Law School for one. Plus, the list of guest speakers is impressive, including the likes of Lawrence Lessig and Shepard Fairey among others.

In spite of my excitement, I must admit that I have developed a bias for the cMOOC variety. Of course that is what I know best, having engaged in about six or seven of them with varying degrees of success. So I am reserving some judgement but wanted to start some comparing them for my own understanding as much as anyone else’s.

ETMOOC is fostering such a magnificent community of open-thinking educators from all teaching levels and tech savviness. Loosely connected as a “course,” it is warm, inviting, and filled with innumerable learning opportunities. It is a grand invitation to self-directed wayfinding in a virtual space that hinges on a hashtag. Focusing on education technology, which is much broader and already begun tangentially addressing the legal concept of copyright, the experiences between the two are already so different.

Diagram: Why MOOC Design

While ETMOOC is completely open and proving to be quite adept at building a massive tent to include all those who wish to  participate, HLS1x: Copyright was subject to a pretty serious winnowing process. Thousands of applications were submitted for only 500 spots. So I guess I got pretty lucky. I certainly feel that way. Upon the invitation letter to join the course, however, there was a four part follow-up to secure the spot, including a 20 minute pre-test.

As one of the 500, I am already subdivided into a section of 20, complete with a juris doctor teaching fellow to lead the group, a bit different from the conspirators of the ETMOOC variety so far as I can tell. I have already received a handful of preparatory messages and documents prior to the class start. At the conclusion of the course, I am invited to take a four hour written examination. If my performance in the discussion forums and on the exam are satisfactory,  I can earn a certificate of completion.

It is a given that these two MOOCs are very different. HLS1x: Copyright is a course that really is primarily about content. ETMOOC is less about content and more about discovery, in a variety of forms. Both are genuine opportunities for deep learning and professional growth. Yet, I can’t help feeling a bias in favor of the xMOOC, even if I might be falling prey to it.

The level of commitment that is being requested in the HarvardX is formal, demanding, and leverages the prestige of Harvard University. It is highly focused on the accrual of knowledge, includes an already potentially intimidating test, and even offers a credential, for whatever that is worth.

All of these factors led me to ask my employer for some professional development recognition upon completing the course, as if I was taking a typical graduate course. Graciously, the decision maker in my district granted the request. However, I cannot imagine that the same administrator would have gone for the similar request regarding a cMOOC. Eventually, I will make a the same plea, but figured this xMOOC wasn’t too far of a departure from the known way of doing the business of education. Plus, living in the Boston area, Harvard has even more clout, helping my pitch.

Still, I wonder which experience will ultimately prove most valuable to me. ETMOOC already strikes me as the kind of experience that may have much longer legs than its scheduled 11 weeks. I am waiting to see what HLS1x: Copyright holds. I will  be interested to see what kind of community is created in the course, especially among the cohort of 20 to which I now belong.

On a side note, part of my cMOOC fancy has to do with my increasing aggravation at how much the mainstream press has for the most part completely disregarded them, instead lauding the revolution of the prestigious and for-profit ventures. Friedman’s piece in today’s New York Times is just another egregious example. It is as if cMOOCs never really existed or at least those reporting aren’t even aware of their existence.

Almost all of the press coverage advances a bias about education that I will have to return to in a separate post. Safe to say, the bias is what influenced my effort to pitch my employer on the xMOOC for credit over the cMOOC. Friedman’s understanding articulated in “Revolution Hits the Universities,” with its courting of Coursera isn’t nearly as revolutionary as Couros, or Siemens, Downes, Cormier, Groom, Levine, and all the other practitioners of this new educational phenomenon. At some point, I hope to press the case that the experience offered in a cMOOC is just as valuable, arguably more so, and just as deserving of consideration for some means of professional development recognition, regardless of whether it is affiliated with a credential granting scheme or university, prestigious or not.

Quick Reflection: Changing Role(s) of a Teacher

Considering the emerging hybrid pedagogies, open education, and massive open online courses there is no question that relationships between teachers, students and the technologies they share are changing. On the most simplistic level, they are truly forcing a re-conception of the contemporary teacher. I am not necessarily convinced that it is necessarily a new one, but there is a definite re-envisioning happening. In a world that offers such abundance of content, teachers are no longer the purveyors of specialized knowledge. Of course they can remain that in some circumstances, but that role is no longer a given.

Generally, I believe teachers still know more than students, especially at the K-12 level, but that knowledge is no longer enough. Teachers must possess other intangible qualities to operate effectively in a world where knowledge is no longer the coin of the realm, if it ever really was.

Teachers now must be able to deliver more wisdom than content. Stephen Downes shared a rather daunting list of roles teachers play in his “The Role of the EducatorHuffington Post piece, where he shared no less than twenty-three roles (Learner, Collector, Curator, Alchemist, Programmer, Salesperson, Convener, Coordinator, Designer, Coach, Agitator, Facilitator, Tech Support, Moderator, Critic, Lecturer, Demonstrator, Mentor, Connector, Theorizer, Sharer, Evaluator, and Bureaucrat). That is quite an impressive list and one I consider often.

One step further and Alec Couros’s Networked Teacher diagram and concept highlight an array of capacities in just one of those previously mentioned roles. Certinly there is some overlap, but the diagram is a granular look at the role of Connector, to be sure.

I think it is safe to say that the expectation is that teachers should provide what is needed. Consequently, teachers must be more things to more people than maybe ever before. The complexity of the job has multiplied.

As result, the relationships between teachers, students, and technologies they share have grown more complex. The roles that were believed to be settled are all again subject to interrogation.

For me, an educator or teacher must be a master student or learner. One who walks the walk, always learning, always curious, always chasing mastery, and leads by example. Truth be told, that is the only way I know, at the moment, how to maintain any kind of anchor in these evolving relationships.