Learning Technologies Symposium 2016 Recap

McMaster University holds a Learning Technologies Symposium every year and this year’s event was spread over two days just after (Canadian) Thanksgiving.  I have a bit of a biased view, as I’ve been one of the organizers over the last four years so unlike my other recap type posts where I share the things I’ve learned attending the sessions, this one will document the things that I did and the things I learned.

A few days before, we had some session cancellations so I, being the diligent jack-of-all-trades offered to run a few sessions to fill in the gaps. The first was on using PebblePad as a peer-review platform, the second was a session I co-presented with a colleague on WebEx, our new web conferencing tool and lastly I ran a quick introduction to digital badges.

I also had to dip back into my history as a media developer to help sort out (with the help of our current digital media specialists) how to get a video camera (actually two video cameras) with HDMI outs into a WebEx broadcast of our keynote (the answer was that it’s best to run it through a video mixer, in this case a Roland VR-50HD). It came together fairly well, without the caveat that WebEx is persnickety when you don’t connect devices in the correct order (ie. it accepted the video feed fine, but didn’t switch audio to match, a quick audio reset fixed the issue).

So I missed most of Barbara Oakley’s keynote, which dealt with a lot of scientific research into how we learn and pay attention, and a lot of the discussion that followed as I was busy with the setup and breakdown of the streaming rig.

The first session I attended was one I was presenting for 15 minutes about peer review – the other session was about Individual Assessment and Personal Learning – in the context of an Italian language course (which as an aside, uses an open textbook). Unfortunately, no one showed up. It was great to catch up with Wendy, who was presenting in the same slot as I, and we chatted about all sorts of educational technology things.

Onto day two… I missed the first block of sessions working on preparing for my own session on WebEx (and catching up on e-mail from the last week, when I was off). The WebEx introduction session went really well, people were happy with the visual fidelity and audio quality. They also seemed intrigued with the testing option, but who knows if anyone will actually take it up. I’m really hoping we could do something with it – maybe review classes at the end of a semester could take advantage of it?

Day two had a series of presentations on some of the VR/AR work that’s being done on campus right now, which is new and exciting even though I’m not involved in it. Every project I’ve heard about is using the technology in a way that makes sense and should enhance learning (unlike in the past where technology is used for flash and wow, without any consideration for it making any sense). I wish I didn’t present twice on day two, because those sessions would’ve been great to see more than for a few seconds.

At lunch David Porter (who I didn’t know I was following on Twitter) new CEO of eCampusOntario (our version of BC Campus) did an overview of how he sees eCampusOntario developing and essentially threw a job recruitment pitch out there as well. We’ll see how the latest round of funding for research and projects goes, because the call was very specific and rigorous – so that vision is really well defined. I did start a proposal, but of course, it was due on October 31st, and I was in Texas watching my favourite band play their last show (NSFW), so I was a little busy.

After lunch I did a presentation on digital badges (do we need them?) that was a brief introduction to digital badges and tried to answer whether we need them (the precis is no, we don’t need them but you may still want to use them in cases where you want to explicitly assess skills or document experiences – transcripts and portfolios can handle the rest). This was paired with an instructor who uses our LMS for exams, in a relatively unique way. The exam is a paper based math exam, mostly generating matricies. The students complete the exam using pencil, paper and calculators, then are given half an hour to transcribe the work into D2L. The instructor then uses the auto marking feature to grade exams using fill-in-the-blanks. It’s a pretty clever way to make marking easier.

After closing remarks – and a giveaway – it was all wrapped up for another year.

 

 

Fusion 2016 Recap

So, as always, D2L’s Fusion conference is a good time. I always learn a lot, but I always have a good time as well. Usually, I like to fly out of Buffalo airport, but the way things worked out I was flying out of Toronto Island Airport (not Pearson, which is the big one that most people use). It was a great experience, but different. I am always really early for flights, and prefer to pay in cash, and at Toronto Island you don’t have to be two hours ahead, and you can’t pay for anything in cash. Oh well, I’ll know for next time. I did run into a ton of people who were going to the conference, including people from Ryerson University, Conestoga College, and the University of Guelph. Jason, a co-conspirator in provocative thinking (or a troublemaker and a friend), was on the plane, and gave me the best compliment on my readiness to get through customs; “you’re such an organized anarchist”.

I knew this year’s conference was going to be a get-up and go quickly kind of affair; the whole deal itself started on the Sunday night, so I had a whole of 6/7 hours before it started to get in some record shopping, a meal, and maybe see a sight or two (I don’t really sight see, I’ve been to New York City half a dozen times and have never gone to the Statue of Liberty, seen a Broadway play or gone up the Empire State Building). Having never been in DC, I scoped out their record store selection (in hindsight Joint Custody was the best of the bunch, but none of them were what I’d call “bad”) realized it all stemmed from U street, and head off that way. I didn’t really get a chance to hunt down some Go Go, but that was due to a lack of time.  After a stop at Ben’s Chili Bowl (doubling for my sightseeing and a meal, because the importance of the restaurant cannot be understated) for a half-smoke (no onions) and a bit of history, records scored, it was time to get back to the hotel, and get situated for the evening conference welcome.

The conference welcome started, I ran into Barry, who I have this kinship with, so we typically hang out as much as possible (which isn’t as much as I’d like) when you consider the scope of this sort of thing. Also getting odd photos with former Premier of Ontario seems to be a thing for me:

After a brief night out, I returned to the hotel, and noticed that I had missed shaving a chunk of hair on the side of my head right above my ear. How did I go through the whole day, talking to people I know, in two different states and a province, with no one saying, “hey, your barber missed a spot”? At a quarter to midnight it was off to the 24 hour CVS to get some disposable razors. My friends are a bunch of jerks. OK, not really. It also allowed me to catch a ton of Pokemon on my stroll, so it was all for good.

Day One

For whatever reason, perhaps it’s my inner competitor, I always like playing D2L’s event games. This year’s app was well built and a neat motivator for me to fill in feedback. I know, judging from how many people stuck around for codes at the end of the presentations, that I’m not the only one.

I was early for the breakfast (getting up at 6 AM for some ungodly reason), so I wandered around the vendor displays and talked to Kaltura and ReadSpeaker about their products (Kaltura we have as a streaming solution for our department needs, ReadSpeaker we have looked at for a while but haven’t had any group on campus suggest they want to foot the bill for).

The opening remarks were good enough – sales pitch for how good D2L is really – but that’s to be expected. I was really interested to hear about some of the success stories that D2L has had over the last year in different areas of the world and education sector. It seems that they’re really pushing into the corporate training space, and an LMS (especially when you consider the work being done in outcomes that they’re investing in) makes sense in that context. I wonder if that diversification of clients is something that will make getting higher education’s needs met harder? Will D2L spread themselves too thin? I guess we’ll find out over the next few years.

Getting Started with Brightspace Data Access

I always try to attend Valence API (now called the Application API) sessions even though I’m doing zero API work – one of these days I’ll get back to the programming stuff I used to do (just in time for my outdated skills to be even more outdated…) because there’s some need to do it. In addition to the Application API, D2L is opening up it’s Data API, so you can access the data storehouse for custom queries rather than using the Application API to periodically collect that data yourself. It only works with Brightspace Data Platform, which is hosted by Amazon Web Services. There’s still some questions floating out there about what exactly is stored in Amazon, and from this session I gather a lot of it is just transaction stuff – so the code to call the data, but not the data itself. If there are data points stored, they would have to be obfuscated. They also mentioned a Data Hub, which allows you to get data extracts (if you’re an Insights/Analytics customer first) in CSV format, so hopefully that means we can run some networking analysis on how people use the system based on extracted data.

Magic Brightspace Widgets

Again, another session that I went to that wasn’t about what I’m doing currently. This one detailed how you can use jQuery and the DOM to scale through D2L’s design of the system to create widgets that change how the entire course looks and feels. Essentially you create code in the middle – which wouldn’t work at scale – but on the course level might be useful. Some really impressive stuff – too bad I couldn’t find the Prezi online anywhere, I’d like to take another look at the examples that Ms. Milanovic at Deakin University showed.

Who’s Got Game? How Badging and Certificates Drives Learner Engagement

Matt Murphy of D2L ran this session, and I wanted to attend as I’m co-running a workshop on Tuesday about badging programs – and I wanted to see what he had to say about badges. Thankfully, he covered a lot of the groundwork about what badges are (using one of the same images I used in my slides!), when to use them and a lot of the foundational work that we didn’t have time to cover in our workshop. Big high fives to Matt for laying the groundwork for us to be able to be successful. And introducing me to Untappd, an app that documents the beers you consume.

Valence Possibilities: Demonstrating Automated Course Setup and Enrollment Applications Supporting Distributed and Centralized Curricular Models

This was an interesting session about how one university uses the API to manage course creations in creative ways (essentially copying from Master courses or Sandboxes on creation). Most of their code was in C#, so that’s not a lot of use to me, but the principles are always good to have a look at.

Keynote by Sir Ken Robinson

I will say, Sir Ken Robinson’s talk was fun, thoughtful, but lean on content. Essentially he riffed on the nature of individuality, and how creativity is a context specific idea, for an hour. An entertaining hour, yes, absolutely. I didn’t learn anything from it that I didn’t hear from his TED talks, or other sessions. I imagine he’s a great guy to get a pint with, and mull over ideas with, but this talk didn’t exactly set my heart ablaze. It was good, and maybe I was expecting that feeling the first time I saw the original TED talk about the ways systems (not just educational systems, but all systems) handle individuality (or creativity in some contexts).

A Night at the Newseum

It was cool to see a piece of the Berlin Wall. Other than that, it seemed very american-centric, and I guess that’s not really a valid criticism as it’s in Washington DC, but I was hoping for insight into how news exists elsewhere. Meh. Back to the hotel to grab a decent pint (as much as I like free beer, Amstel Light as the best beer of the bunch, requires a follow-up with something a little more full bodied) and then head up to finish up some last minute touch ups to the presentation, documents, and other stuff for the workshop tomorrow.

Day Two

Got up, did some last minute touch ups to the presentation part of the workshop for today, reviewed my bits and was early for the Technical Account Manager breakfast. Now we have good relationship with JP, or TAM, so it was neat to have some of the other TAMs around as well to see who else is one. Solution Spotlight was next, this year they announced that they’re giving YouSeeU to all their clients – although we’ll have to see where the data is hosted, what the terms of the integration are, and what the specifications of what we’re getting is. I did note, that this might impact our WebEx offering, or maybe not – depends on which product our faculty and students gravitate towards. Off to sessions.

Reimagining Portfolio Practice: An Audience Led Exploration of High Impact Portfolio Practice

Originally, this was intended to be our Learning Portfolio Program Manager co-presenting with Shane about PebblePad’s flexibility to provide portfolios of different types for different uses, but she retired and Shane from PebblePad asked me to be in the audience should there be a question about integration between D2L and PebblePad. It was a good whirlwind tour of different ways to use portfolios.

Start Your Badging Program Today!

This was the session I co-ran with Lavinia Oltean, who I often introduce as the younger, smarter, better looking, less mustachioed, more organized version of me. This may be the first time in my life I’ve left a session feeling really, really good about it. We hit all our timings (it got bumpy towards the middle) but we got through the bit of an introduction, let them get to work and we had great interaction. I think people came away with a good sense of what could be done with badges, and had a good start in working through what a badge could mean in their context.

Writing Your Own LTI + Combining It With Valence Calls = Solving Unique Problems

I missed the start of this as the end of our presentation leaked into the break and conversations were too good to abandon. The part of the session that I got was that they created a widget that used the API to create a test student account and LTI to connect their API use to Brightspace. I’m not sure why they didn’t simplify it a bit and just use the API to create and enroll the test student account (for faculty to use to view a course), but as a proof of concept it’s pretty cool.

Maximizing the Power of Brightspace: How a College is able to Generate Official course Syllabi from the Learning Environment

Again, I was late for this one as I was chatting with folks that I knew I wouldn’t see again until the next time at Fusion or at the regional conference. La Cite College have an external site that contains their course outlines, and have used the Application API (aka Valence) to read that external database and create a PDF course outline for faculty, automatically included in D2L. This was by far, the slickest idea I saw using the API at this Fusion. Really nice work.

What’s All this Buzzing About Next Generation Digital Learning Architecture?

Rob Abel from IMS Global gave a talk about how the people who help faculty learn about technology will move from an IT support sort of role, to a strategy consultant role as a result of the move from the monolithic LMS to a more distributed, next generation learning environment. His talk was wide ranging, and I’ve found it’s available here: http://demo.desire2learncapture.com/139/Watch/3688.aspx

Keynote by Angela Meiers

I only could stay for 15 minutes because the concierge suggested that we take public transit rather than a cab to the airport. Jason and I decided to go together, seeing as we’re on the same flight and need to be there at the same time. Basically, you matter is what I got from the brief time in Angela’s talk.

The Way Home..

So I admit, there were less interesting run-ins, weird moments, funny things occurring that I’m used to at a conference. And then there was the way home. It got good once we got on the express bus to Dulles. Jason got called a Tom Cruise look alike, I had to get him back on the bus when he got off at a parking lot just outside Dulles (in his defense, everyone was getting off the bus, so it seemed logical), the driver laughed at us, and we had a great chat the rest of the way.

That’s not the end of it. After clearing through TSA in what felt like record time, we were both starving and having an hour before the flight boarded, thought a meal was in order. Of course, the restaurant we choose doesn’t move fast. You’d think that perhaps airport restaurants understand some people might be in a hurry? No? Me either.

Needless to say, Jason settled up (I had cash so no need to wait!) as I ran to the gate, to get on the plane. A minute before the doors closed, he got on the plane. It was a bit of a last minute dash.

Designing Digital Badges

The idea of designing a digital badge should be daunting. Much like how there’s a lot of discussion that web design is too complicated now (with front-end specialists. back-end specialists, UI, UX, branding, Javascript rockstars, and so on), designing a badge is a complex task. With a learning outcome, it’s fairly straight forward, you gather together a couple of sentences that express what you hope the learner to accomplish in a period of time. I’m drastically simplifying the writing of a learning outcome, because there’s great nuance in a truly well-written one. And there’s lots of ambiguity in poorly written ones…

With that said, badges are much like a learning outcome, plus all these other, sometimes complex, visual ideas that can entirely sabotage your badge before anyone has earned it. Is the badge ugly to the one who might earn it? They’re unlikely to be motivated and it could turn them off learning in your context.

With all that said I’m not a design expert, but I have bookmarked quite a few sites that give differing opinions on what a shape, color, design or visual idea might mean. If you’ve studies semiotics, you’ll fully understand that this is really a brief and cursory view of a deep and nuanced subject. If you’re a visual designer, you’ll really understand that there’s a lot for people to dig into with building a badge. This is just a taste to get your palate satiated, just a start to get the creative ideas flowing…

Understanding Shapes Better

Understanding Colour Better

Online Badge Design Kits

Badge Design Worksheets

Free Icons

 

 

D2L Badging

So, I’ve been poking around with D2L’s badging/certificate since it was unveiled in September (and actually writing this blog post since then!) on our test instance and it’s been a fun thing actually thinking about and configuring a new tool. It’s been so long since I’ve actually spun something new up – that I had to really work the part of my brain that frankly hasn’t been worked in a long time – the “what if?” part. What really stinks is that with badging we actually don’t want to have every instructor available to create badges. That simply means controlling access to the tool via Navigation Bars (which we don’t allow our instructors to change) or creating a new role. Either way is a bunch of manual work for me.

The one big problem, and this isn’t by any means a knock against us, is that I haven’t had time to properly configure this on test in a way that makes testing easy – I’ve just been too busy working with ePortfolios and PebblePad to take the time. Thankfully there’s documents like the Assessments Administrator Guide on the Brightspace Community that help a lot when working through the user permissions (which frankly are poorly documented) and what used to be called DOME variables (now Config Variable Browser). So we’ve slowly got the technical side working and we’ve run into a huge issue that could conceivably cripple the whole damn thing. Issuing a certificate or award (or digital badge) means that we’re giving power to instructors that Registrar’s previously held very closely to themselves. So, we’ve devised a way to do this without ruffling institutional feathers – and with a way to control how the badges are used.

We really want to avoid badging as another way to give grades or learning outcomes. There is already a wealth of tools in the LMS that do this (uhhh, Grades and Competencies/Outcomes) so do not recreate what you already do and add a pretty picture to it. That is useless, and students will inevitably find badges useless in that context. More importantly, external parties will find badges useless, which if you really want badges to hold some value, then you will need external people to value them. Giving a badge that says you got an A in a course, is frankly useless (as useless as the A is in determining what a person is capable of or knows).

So as an institution we are looking at ways that we can ensure that people using badges are using them in ways that actually contribute to the student experience, by either awarding badges that have no representation elsewhere (like experiences that could make up a part of a co-curricular record) or awarding badges for skills that are not explicitly found within the core curriculum. Students already have a transcript that uses grades as a way of communication ideas about broad topics. Students should have learning outcomes that syllabi tell them are the important aspects of those courses. Don’t bother recreating the wheel – higher education already has a few that work well enough. Focus on what doesn’t get communicated already.

Our initial plan was to have training help people through this process and when they complete the training, they can then issue badges within their courses context. We’re still doing that – but with an added wrinkle. By the end of the workshop, instructors have designed at least one badge, thinking through the visual design (and sketching it out), the implications of what a digital badge means, how this badge might connect to external groups, what criteria or release condition will issue the badge and finally, how they might value badges coming into the course from other sources.

All of this on paper. Then people can have a serious thought about how it’s technically going to happen. Essentially it’s a two hour enforced planning session.

What will inevitably come up is that some forward thinking instructor will ask “what if we want to have students give each other badges?” and the answer will be “they can’t (providing that the student role is configured in a typical way that controls access to courses)”. It’s a huge gap that’s not a problem with the tool, but with the design of the LMS.

 

Digital Marginalia

A collection of links, notes, and things I’ve seen in the last little while that are too long for a tweet but too short for a full blog post unto themselves…

First, and most importantly to me, the soundtrack to this update the brilliant 13th Floor Elevators (and particularly, Roky Erikson’s great solo version of Two Headed Dog):

I updated my laptop to Windows 10 – I primarily use the laptop for checking e-mail, writing more than a tweet, constructing a drum beat or using Word 2007. The process was smooth for a laptop that’s close to 6 years old and has 4 gig RAM and 320 gig hard drive. However, here’s a series of Windows 10 related links that will be of benefit to those who wish to better understand what this upgrade means. The first outlines the new features of the OS. The second has to do with blocking auto-updates. The third has to do with privacy settings, which we all should be interested in.

http://fieldguide.gizmodo.com/14-things-you-can-do-in-windows-10-that-you-couldnt-do-1721271379

http://www.slashgear.com/microsoft-has-a-tool-for-blocking-windows-10-auto-updates-27394432/

http://lifehacker.com/what-windows-10s-privacy-nightmare-settings-actually-1722267229

I’ve been working off and on over the summer with our student centre trying to think of ways badging could work as a co-curricular record for students. I don’t know that we’re much further, but we are going to try some things over the next year and see how they work. I’m interested in ways that we can empower students to grant badges to other students, especially when those badges might contain institutional imagery. How can we ensure that people don’t misunderstand what the badge means and that it’s a peer issued badge? Lots and lots of stuff to unpack there.

http://chromatrope.co.uk/open-badges-for-training-and-development-2/

http://www.dontwasteyourtime.co.uk/technology/mapping-digital-skills-in-he/

http://huxleypiguk.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/free-open-badge-e-book.html

http://higheredstrategy.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Intelligence-Brief-9-Career-Services-Offices-3.pdf

http://literaci.es/privacy-badges

While in training this week, Carpe Diem learning design was mentioned. I didn’t inquire further, but I did some looking further into it. It strikes me as neat, but prone to my faulty brain labelling it Caveat Emptor learning design, which has a whole separate implication. I would recommend not using Caveat Emptor learning design, if it exists.

http://www.ld-grid.org/resources/methods-and-methodologies/carpe-diem

I didn’t go to Brightspace Fusion/User Conference this year because a) I hate Orlando, and b) the hotel was not within public transportation/walking distance of anything nearby. I did however have my twitter feed blow up for a couple hours when I got mentioned by my good friend Barry. I’m actually speechless about this still (almost two months later!) – it’s honoring and humbling to have others say such nice things about me.  Thank you to you all.