My Retirement Week

I am just recovering this week from a busy, celebration filled week last that I want to share with my blog friends.

The week started by a quick trip to Barcelona, where besides being able to watch FBT Barcelona win the final Champion League match, I was honoured being made a Senior Fellow in the European Distance & E-Learning Network.  I think I am the first person born outside of Europe to receive this honour, so it was a great way to start the week.

The EDEN conference was good (as usual) and it was fun to revisit Barcelona, after Sue and my two month stay there in 2013. No, the Sagrada Familia is not finished, but wonderful new towers are now in place – no photos as I decided to leave my iphone somewhere in the Barcelona airport :-(

Then back home to do a keynote at our Centre for Distance Education annual conference.  It was a small conference and was I able to mostly re-use themes from previous presentations.  The talk was about the multifaceted topic of Interaction in Distance Education, which I realize has been the major theme of my whole academic career. The picture below shows Mohamed Ally and me with the wonderful painting of the town of Athabasca, that I received as a retirement gift. It was then on to the big event of the
leaf graphicday, the Retirement Party I had organized for myself (with help from many friends)!!

I had watched Jack Nicholson, About Schmidt  as he sat watching the clock on his final day of work, and I wanted to go out with a bigger splash than that! So I invited all the faculty at Athabasca, many friends, my Edmonton relatives, some Unitarians and whomever else I thought might like to come. Now, planning a party with such an open invitation (somehow I forgot the RSVP part!) meant we really didn’t know how many people would come.

We rented the Riverdale House, which is a smallish meeting room above the rink shack at the community league a few houses from where I live.  The idea was to spill out into the park and community gardens, around the House, when we filled up the building. Now, I ordered “no rain” since June in Alberta is the rainiest month – and  we only got a few sprinkles. What I had forgotten to do, was order the outside heat and it was a bit of a chilly evening.

My friend Don brought a sound system, and we heard and laughed at many good stories. Then we did a “jam” with wishot-219hoever brought an instrument. I had my hammer dulcimer, but not having played for a week while in Spain, jet lag and the pressure of the event, meant I was not in top form!  The BBQs made some great food and there was a fair bit left to donate to the Youth Emergency Shelter.

I also dug out a box of what remains of my old toy business and a book case full of books that I had authored or done chapters in, to create a “From wooden toys to online learnin” display.

ishot-217

My main motivation in the party was to bring together the many Alberta friends from far different walks of life and provide them a chance to meet each other. they are all interesting folks- well at least interesting (or boered) enough to come to a party For me!!! – and to a degree I think it succeeded.

Of course, I was asked what next?  As I said in a previous post, I’ve got a number of projects on the go, a couple of keynotes booked for this fall and I hope time for time for bike riding, blogging, skiing, music and developing new hobbies and ways to serve.

 

At risk of using this blog more than I usually do to ‘blow my own horn’ I want to end this post with two of the many very kind (and often too generous) emails and cards (thanks) that I received. My first Doctor student, Stuart Berry wrote on his blog:

I understand that you are officially retiring from Athabasca University and I am sorry I cannot be at your farewell party. I would, however, like to pass on my best wishes as well as some thoughts with regards to the impact you have had upon my life and career, and through a similar lens, what impact I know you have had on the lives on many students throughout your academic career.

I was your first doctoral student. We met for the first time at Athabasca in August of 2008 during the cohort weeklong residency. You had earlier written to me and proposed you and I might be a good fit for my proposed research interests. I was over-the-moon as I knew you by reputation and the thought of having the Canada Research Chair in Distance Education as my potential dissertation supervisor was, I thought, a dream come true. In retrospect, this was a dream come true, but for many reasons that at the time I did not nor could not appreciate or imagine.

In our six years together as mentor and student I was frustrated yet continuously encouraged by you to find the limits of my academic capacity. I was nurtured and supported in the opening of doors, the ramifications of which neither you nor I fully appreciated at the time, yet you did not blink. You continued to be excited with and for me in this journey. You were always present. You taught me about the whole idea of presence, not just through your daily academic work with students and your prolific publishing record but most of all by you being everything and more you talk about and tell us in your very public writings: You live as you speak and write. I never once felt anything other than your continual presence throughout my doctoral journey.

I saw impenetrable walls. You waited patiently for me to see these obstacles through different eyes knowing when I understood what was needed to be known, the walls would become new knowledge and understanding and would cease to be perceived barriers. I know at times I resisted your shaping and your gentle nudgings. Maybe that is just part of the journey but as I have had the time and space to revisit and re-examine my six year journey with you I feel what stands out most is your gentle, open, and unhurried approach to dealing with the challenges we all face everyday.

Your list of accomplishments is quite legendary. If I have learned anything from you it is this: we are all working together for a common purpose; our hearts and minds need to be ever open; the work we do in education is for everyone and not a select few; and, most of all, the journey is the gift. I thank you for allowing me to be part of that journey.

It has been an honour and a pleasure and I wish you a long, healthy, and happy next phase of your life, especially sharing it with your wonderful Susan.

Stu

Comments like Stu’s make me really appreciate the opportunity to be a teacher.

I’ll end with the email from Athabasca Medieval Studies professor Marc Cels.  Marc didn’t realize this, but Susan and I are great admires if Hildegard of Bingen. In fact in 2003 we made a special stop in Bingen on a driving trip through Germany.  He wrote and attached the picture of one of Hidegard’s visions below:

I regret that I won’t be able to attend your shing-ding this evening as I’m feeling under the weather. I really wanted to come to give you a proper send-off and to express my gratitude for all that you’ve done for AU, your sage advice, your example the you have given us, and your particular assistance to me and our colleagues at the Centre for Humanities. I wish you well with your next projects and hope that retirement will allow you to focus on what you enjoy and to put aside what distracts!

You’ve acted as a sort of DE Guardian Angel or Patron Saint at AU, so I offer you an electronic icon of the woman who I think should be the official patron saint of D.E. (I just haven’t gotten around to writing the Vatican): Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). I assign students of my medieval history course a sample of her writings and book illustrations. This German abbess is famous for receiving divine revelations (the ultimate form of DE!) and sharing them broadly, having founded several monasteries or convents with busy scriptoria. Though a woman and a nun barred from the cathedral schools and nascent universities, she provided herself with a good education, excelling as a composer of music, writer of plays, poet, mystic, philosopher/scientist, preacher and a critical commentator on the affairs of her day (by a copious correspondence). Her advice was sought out by popes and emperors. The image is from her book of visions, the Liber Scivias, and I believe the manuscript was illustrated by the “Visual Designers” under her direction, so this is close to a self-portrait. It shows the mystic receiving a divine vision and recording it on her tablet with the help of her discrete clerical secretary.

So, you see, the perfect model for a DE scholar! Thanks again for being our flesh-and-blood model, Terry.

Hildegard_von_Bingen

Providing audio feedback to students: Review of a review

I’ve always been interested in studies that help us differentiate both pedagogies and educational technology use, based upon time requirements. These studies of course should include all the actors – too often student time is taken as a free given.

Thus, a recent publication by Gusman Edouard tweaked my interest.

Edouard, G. (2015). Effectiveness of audio feedback in distance education. INSTRUCTIONAL TECHNOLOGY, 45 http://itdl.org/Journal/Apr_15/Apr15.pdf#page=49

I should note, right away, that I am a big fan of audio feedback and have been more or less exclusively using audio to mark graduate students essays for the past 5 years. I get very positive feedback from students and I am sure the feedback I give is much more extensive than that produced when I use using text comments or summary assessment of their work. Finally, I am convinced that it also saves me time, as I not a very fast typist.

The article asserts thatthe proponents of audio feedback claim that it is superior to written comments in many ways.” They then take a critical look at this claim. The key questions in this paper are:

  1. Is there enough research to support the claim?
  2. Does audio feedback improve learning?
  3. Can it help to save time?

The article provides no original data but does cover some of the research that I am familiar with on this type of technology use. Also note that the aim seems to have a critical edge, asking if there really is evidence to support claims about audio feedback in distance education. As you will see, I think this attempt to be critical underlies quite sloppy research.

You’ll note the first question is really a non-question in that there are many claims not “the claim” and that the two most important (to me at least) are the later two questions. I’ll skip over comments on improvement of learning as Edouard’s conclusions are widely supported however, in education, students and teacher perceptions are often used and mostly cited as evidence in this study.

However the time questions really peeked my interest. Continue reading

Retirement

This month I turn 65 and of course had to try out the Howoldbot to confirm it.

Much to my amazement, it got my age correct (minus 10 days). Well, the picture was taken a couple of years ago, so I guess I am an early maturer!  ishot-211

Reaching this milestone has triggered my long standing expectation that I would retire at what used to be the compulsory age for retirement by University faculty and public servants.  Those days are past and it is quite easy for academics to stay on- a few far past their “best before date”.

I’m retiring in August, not because I don’t like my job (I do) nor that I dislike Athabasca University (though I am very deeply concerned with its viability and sustainability). I also don’t have a great desire to move from Edmonton, though the winters can be brutal!

 

What does inspire my upcoming retirement is:

1. An ever continuing desire for change. The past 14 years at Athabasca is twice as long as my stay at any other job.

2. A desire to open the door for another, younger academic to get a chance at a tenured position. It saddens me to see the number of  qualified academics who apply whenever we have an opening at Athabasca, and saddens me even more to counsel PhD students that their possibility for employment in the academy is very limited given the large excesses of graduates compared to available positions in universities or colleges.

3. A desire for more time for music. I try to play my hammer dulcimer daily and will be joining a choir this fall. I may even dust off my old guitar or fiddle.

4. The opportunity to give back a bit more. My significant earnings,  good pension plan plus a moderately frugal lifestyle, has made it possible for me to retire (with less than a full pension), but enough for Susan and I to live comfortably. Thus, I will be free to devote more time to a variety of volunteer and nonprofit organizations, that I have only had time to support marginally over my career and family raising eras.

5. The chance to focus my time on projects that I find of particular interest. I don’t plan on “hanging up the keyboard”. I think I  have at least one more book to write,  2 more keynotes (Brazil and Denmark this fall) and who knows what other opportunities may arise.

6. Finally, I like biking, travelling, camping, skiing and many other outdoor activities, which I realize as my body ages, may become less possible if I don’t get out there and “do it” now.

So I’m throwing a retirement party (with help from some friends) on June 12, 2015 at the Riverdale House near my home in Edmonton.  If you are in town, please drop by anytime after 7:00! I’d love to see any colleagues, ex-students and old friends!

Terry

 

 

Another attempt at Flexible Provision of courses

Our friends from the Open University of the Netherlands (OUNL) have just had published a very interesting article that seems to be a first step towards helping education and training institutions re purpose their content for multiple audiences.  This is an important, yet very challenging task that requires that courses be created without a single audience in mind. Besides the targeting and language challenges of multiple audiences, the technical challenges are also many and this paper presents a possible  solution.

Just to back up a bit, you may remember the excitement of educational Modeling Languages which evolved into IMS Learning Design. The promise of these efforts was to provide specifications and tools that allowed instructional sequences to be formally described and tagged, thus setting the stage for repurposing, search filter etc.  I was particularly enamoured with the idea that Learning Design would do for education what standard notation from the 11 century did for music. I experimented with some hand coding of content. But the standard had too major problems, notably  lack of markup tools and runtime engines and a very fine level of granularity that required far too much effort to code.  This effort was led by Rob Koper from UNL. Continue reading

Differences between students using PLE and LMS systems

I don’t usually comment on articles in “closed” journals, but making an exception in this case. I hope you can find it in a library data base, or one of the authors uploads it to a public site or you can “rent ” it from Wiley for 48 hours for $6! The article:

Casquero, O., Ovelar, R., Romo, J., & Benito, M. (2015). Reviewing the differences in size, composition and structure between the personal networks of high- and low-performing students. British Journal of Educational Technology, 46(1), 16-31.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12110.

This is one of the few studies that use a quasi-experimental design to measure differences in network formation and structure between low and high achievers in two types of online learning contexts. The first context was based on traditional LMS (Moodle) activities and design with the the usual content display and threaded discussions.  The second used a variety of tools including iGoogle, Google Groups and FriendFeed and an array of  digital resource repositories such as Delicious, Flickr, YouTube, Scribd and SlideShare. The instructor and learning activities were the same in both contexts. Coincidently, this second model is similar to my own courses in which I use the LMS for grade management and some static content display. However, unlike the mix of tools used in this PLE, I use our in-house Elgg environment (Athabasca Landing) which enhances privacy and student control of data.

As has been found in very much studies of interaction in formal courses,  the students who are most active (highest participation levels), score higher marks. This correlation is often used by researchers to justify their interaction interventions. However, as always correlation doesn’t imply causation. Involved, motivated students always both participate and score higher than those who don’t – no matter what learning activities are designed.

In this study  social network analysis tools were used to measure the individual networks developed as evidenced by comments and contributions. As expected higher performing students had more highly developed, denser and more extensive  social networks – again demonstrating motivation and participation. However, more interesting was that the PLE students interacted more and also built more expensive personal networks. The authors note:

 in public spaces, such as open forums, all the individuals are equally exposed and equally positioned to access the information flow. As a result, the present study demonstrates that when public spaces based on indirect interactions are set up in online courses, students’ selection procedures for interaction are not focused on the individuals, but rather on those shared resources and the will to collaborate

Obviously, the information flow in Moodle forums can be rich, but the more extensive opportunities to contribute, and as importantly to browse and consume information produced by others, increases with heterogeneity and richness of sources of that flow.

One problem in this and other networking studies is the sample selection. As in far too many studies of online learning, in this study the 120 participants were all taking a course on Networking and Web 2.0. I have never seen data on how many online research studies use students studying some component of online learning as the subject matter.  This is sort of like studying people’s reaction to smoking indoors, but only reporting the attitudes of smokers.

In any case this is an interesting study and provides further evidence for expanding the learning contexts beyond the confines of a teacher constructed LMS. Network growth, social capital accumulation, transparency, persistence and network literacy are all enhanced when these ‘connectivist’ learning outcomes are aimed for, and instantiated in a course that grows beyond the LMS.

Unitarian Chalice Wheel

In this post I “show off” the carving I had commissioned from I Ketut Weda, a local woodcarver in Ubud, Bali.  Unitarians are proud to both recognize and acknowledge the many spiritual paths followed by other Unitarians and by other citizens of this planet.

The carving has it’s centre a flaming chalice. The chalice is the most common Unitarian Universalist symbol. The chalice or cup represents nurturing and support, the flame represents the energy and contribution of light to social justice and learning.  Around the circle are 8 symbols of the the world’s most well known religious movements.

Westwood Unitarian Chalice Wheel

The 8 symbols on the  Chalice Wheel Represent (clockwise from top)

  1. Jewish Star of David
  2. Christian Cross
  3. Islam Star and Crescent Moon
  4. Hindu Om/Aum
  5. Buddhist Dharma Wheel
  6. Pagan Pentagram Star
  7. Taoist Ying/Yang
  8. Aboriginal Medicine Wheel

The carving below now hangs in the Westwood Unitarian Congregation in Edmonton and of course you are invited to come and see it and to join us on any Sunday morning!

 

Is Blogging worth it for the aspiring academic?

After spending most of yesterday catching up on blogs, Facebook posts, twitter and linked in, I began to wonder if it was worth it and how I would I would measure the value (in academic terms) of my day. First of all I should note that the day was a pleasant one, with a few good articles uncovered, a joke or three, time wasted trying to find closed articles mentioned in open repositories, a few new slides for upcoming keynotes, updates on a number of colleagues, some interesting conference to keep in mind and a great of peripheral knowledge that I have no idea if it will ever have any use.  But was it worth it??

Like most academics, I’m evaluated annually based on three expectations:

1. publishing peer reviewed articles – how many depends on the discipline and the institution, but a quick scan of my CV shows 53 articles in 11 years or more than 4 a year.  Throwing book chapters and full books in adds more brownie points.

2. Teaching – At Athabasca in our graduate program the normal load is only 3 semester courses per year, so I get off quite lightly. We do however have many MEd and EdD students to supervise.  The quality of the courses and my teaching is not assessed very rigorously- as long as there are no students pounding on the Dean’s door.

‘3. Service – a large number of activities falls under this criteria, but certainly suffering through administrative and academic committees meetings within the university counts as well as public service activities. Fortunately at Athabasca, most meetings in our “distributed workplace” are help online or on telephone, so I shameless multi-tasked through many meetings.

The relative weight of each of these three is both arguable and varies at different institutions. But most Canadian universities seem to be weighted around 40/40/20%.

Now how did my net activities relate to these measurable outcomes?  Certainly one can make a note in one’s annual report about how many blog posts you have posted, how many Twitter followers you have engaged and if your how many hits on your presentations in Slideshare or YouTube – but these don’t count for much in themselves. And worse, they may be seen by faculty evaluation committees (especially those members who do not have a significant Net presence) as a waste of academic time.

I did bump into articles that were recommended on Twitter – I think for three of them I downloaded the citation into my reference manager- hopefully for appearance in future articles. Thus, some potential benefit to my publishing work for this year. I also tweeted and blogged, and copied the URLs into a research course that I am continuously updating -teaching work. And finally  my tweets and posts are bringing some limited fame and acknowledgement to Athabasca University and the Centre for Distance Education where I work- public service.  But pretty hard to make direct measurements of these activities on the ‘big three’ listed above.

Finally I had an interesting discussion with a colleague yesterday, musing about this issue and heard the very familiar complaint that he can hardly keep up with email and just doesn’t have time or interest in more net activities – reading or writing. Unless of course, he gets a filtered recommendation on something from myself or other colleagues.

So, today I wondering how the question of how much effect does Net presence and activity have on academic careers could be empirically resolved. Of course, it isn’t very likely that a control group, longitudinal  experiment could be done, so one would likely have to settled for correlational data. But what data counts – Number of posts? number of followers? Number of “retweets”? and what would be the dependent variables- time to promotion to tenure and/or full professor, number of keynote and invited presentations?, number of articles pushed? number of citations or H-index from Google Scholar?  Probably the H-index would be easiest, but there are many questions about Google Scholar- none of which are resolved by the lack of transparency in the way items get counted.i

I can certainly think of super star academics (- in our field George Siemens, Grainne Conole, Tony Bates, Steve Wheeler and dana boyd come mind) who have good academic ratings and are very active on a number of platforms. But I can think of an equal number of strong academics (Randy Garrison, Manuel Castells, Michael Moore and Phil Abrami)  who to my knowledge have no or very limited net presence. Looking at the names I’ve listed I see there MAY be a small correlation with age, but certainly there are many exceptions.

So let me throw this out to researchers on the net. How do you measure the value of net presence on academic career success?

Hmmm, I wonder what the academic value of this musing has been.