First Week of Using PebblePad

A little preamble.

We’ve been looking at bringing on a second ePortfolio platform since January. We’ve used the D2L ePortfolio platform for two years, with some significant gains, but with quite a few growing pains. The tool doesn’t seem to be getting much focus from D2L – instead they seem to be looking at mobile ePortfolios the last few years. While that’s great, and the app is very, very slick, the way we authenticate to our LMS prevents us from using any of the D2L developed apps; Assignment Grader, ePortfolio, Binder, Pulse, none of them will work for us because of the way we authenticate. Changing our authentication process is on our list of things to do, but isn’t going to happen soon (think: one to two years).

While ePortfolio is a good tool for individual use in context of classroom activity, it doesn’t really do co-curricular stuff well without a bunch of workarounds, like creating a course to house the co-curricular activity. It works well in a mentorship situation (where the mentor is an instructor in a class). It also doesn’t allow people to collaborate effectively. You can share a presentation, giving the other person full rights to edit, but for some weird design reason, you cannot edit anything that exists in the presentation. Even with permission to edit the underlying artifact. This was a deal breaker for a few faculty in large classes. Critical reflection in a social space is something our faculty want, our students want and the literature suggests might be more effective at challenging underlying fundamental thinking.

So we started looking at options.

I tried to advocate for a Domain of One’s Own style project using WordPress as a base for how students could construct a “portfolio” – but too many people felt that it couldn’t adapt to a curriculum based approach where an instructor type person could securely grade and provide individual feedback. People that have used WordPress understand that you can in fact, do just that, but it take a little more work. All else fails there’s e-mail right? Honestly, I didn’t think this option would gain much ground, it’s too radical for our campus, and not necessarily a perfect, easy fit for our needs.

We looked at other providers, Known, Digication, Mahara (and holy crap if you think D2L ePortfolio produces elderly looking portfolios, Mahara looks like warm garbage strewn across an empty strip mall from the 80’s) and a number of free solutions (including Pathbrite). Nothing really did all of the things that we wanted – we needed a pretty broad tool that could do many different things (including co-curriculum uses, personal uses, group/shared uses, curricular uses and finally, a mentor/mentee communication tool).

After putting the others through the review process, we ended up selecting PebblePad and began planning. Negotiation took a bit longer than we liked, but all in all, we turned on the system on September 2nd. We didn’t have time to do single sign-on, or connect the Student Information System to it, or our authentication system. Basically we have a link in the LMS that takes the student/user to the login page and they authenticate to an account I’ve created (to date, 7260 accounts). It also means that the assessment areas in PebblePad – called ATLAS –  (which are distinct from assessment in the LMS) were created manually by me (about 40 so far).

The fact that we turned on the system and did some minor configuration and started running within hours (albeit in a hosted environment) was pretty pleasant. There’s been no major issues (so far). There’s been no real questions come in to ask about “how do I?” – mostly about “can I get an account?” I’ll update in a month or so how things have gone to that date in the future.

Fusion 2014 – Day Two Recap

So anyone who has gone to a conference before will recognize, it’s a bit more like a marathon than a sprint – you really have to try to pace yourself to get everything in and pay attention to the things you want to. I will say, that for the second year in a row, the food at the Fusion conferences were really good. Ended up talking with Paul Janzen of D2L about our impending PeopleSoft integration and the summer of integrations (Blackboard Collaborate, Pearson, maybe McGraw Hill, iClicker and Top Hat) we’re doing at McMaster. Ken Chapman also joined us at breakfast and asked a little bit about what we’d like to see out of e-mail. Frankly, I hadn’t thought about e-mail in years, because we’ve been mired in hell with IT and us trying to get the Google Mail integration working (not that it doesn’t functionally work, but IT has stalled us for admin level access since we asked a year and a half ago). I said that I’d personally prefer the system to not do e-mail at all, but that would be a difficult task considering we have people who segment their academic teaching e-mail on the LMS rather than their institutional e-mail. The problem for us is that we’re currently not configured to allow external e-mail.  It will be interesting to see if IMAP/POP3 support comes to Brightside sometime in the future – which makes a lot more sense.

Insights Focus Group

I wasn’t sure if I was going to be of any help in this but I  thought that seeing as we’ve run some reports with the Insights tool maybe I could glean better ways to deal with it. Basically, people had concerns with the large data not being able to run org-level reports (which is one of ours as well), the interface needs some improvement, and the time it takes to create ad hoc reports is too long. So those issues were at least noted. Let’s see how they get addressed going forward.

Blended Learning, Learning Portfolios and Portfolio Evaluation

Wendy Lawson and I co-presented this – however it was mostly a Wendy show. She lived it, so she should have the floor. Basically this presentation outlines what we collaborated on for Wendy in her Med Rad Sci 1F03 course – which is a professional development course for first semester, first year science students going into the Medical Radiation Sciences (X Ray, Sonography, etc).

We used the ePortfolio tool as a presentation mechanism – which I think worked well, I’m not sure if we had a good flow of what we were going to show on each page, but other than that, it was a risk that we felt was not big enough to impede our presentation.

We talked about how this redesigned course could use the Learning Portfolio to deliver the course in a blended manner (using ePortfolio/Learning Portfolio activities as the one-hour blended component) and how the students did with it. After working with Wendy on this presentation, the stuff her students did were miles above what we saw on average and I think next year, the weaknesses she acknowledged in the course will be addressed.

Vendor Sessions

I honestly skipped these because, well, I’m not interested in getting more spam in my work e-mail. Plus, my wife was having surgery (everything’s good!) at this time so I wanted to call and make sure we connected before surgery began.

Connecting Learning Tools to the Desire2Learn Platform: Models and Approaches

Attending this session was particularly self-serving – I wanted to say hi to the presenter, George Kroner, who I’ve followed on twitter for what seems like a million years, and the Valence stuff is stuff I feel I should know. I have a decent enough programming background – I can hack together things. So why am I not actually building this stuff?

George walked through UMUC’s process for integrating a new learning tool which can be broken down into three steps:

  1. Evaluate tool fit
  2. Determine level of effort to integrate
  3. Do it/Don’t do it

It seems so simple when I re-write out my notes, but it’s a really interesting set of steps – for instance, in the determine the level of effort to integrate – you also have to think of post-integration support, who supports what when you integrate? Is it the vendor? Or your support desk? What’s the protocol for resolving issues – do people put in a ticket with you, then you chase the vendor? Is the tool a one-time configuration and does it import/export nicely, or does it need to be configured every time it’s deployed in a course?

We did a Valence exercise next, and I want to merely link two tools that when I circle back to doing some Valence work (soon, I swear!) I’ll need: and The API test tool is a no brainer really, and I knew about it before but never knew where it was – incredibly helpful for debugging your calls and what you might get back. JSON editor online is new to me, and something that I really, really needed. I’m a JSON idiot – for some reason, Javascript never resonated with me. I’ve always preferred Python or PHP as web scripts, despite the power of Javascript. Guess I’ll have to put on my big boy pants and learn it all over again. Maybe Dr. Chuck will do a JSON course like he’s done with Python?

Social Event at the Country Music Hall of Fame

The evening social event was great – the Hatch Show print is actually something I might just hang in my office. There was some shop talk, some fun stuff, a drone… Oh yeah, this happened:

Learning Portfolio Showcase at McMaster University

The day surrounding the culmination of a significant portion of my work around the learning portfolio at McMaster this year was the Learning Portfolio showcase.

In the morning, Randy Bass gave a talk about where learning might be going – I’ve embedded it here to provide some context for how our university is framing the discussion.

As usual, Randy gave a great talk, this is my second (maybe even my third) time listening to Randy speak and it’s well worth the investment of time. In the afternoon, there was more discussion around the use of the Learning Portfolio – from potential employers, from faculty, from staff and from students. Below is a short overview of some of the things we’ve learned.

One of the  big things I’ve learned this year is that the tool we’re using (D2L’s ePortfolio tool) really dictates how things get done. It would be nice to have a timed reflection option (currently we use Quizzes for this process – and that’s got problems in and of itself), it would be nice to allow students to act as teachers in certain contexts – dictated by the instructor of the course. I know that the tool is getting an upgrade, but the upgrades can’t come soon enough. Once we can use the ePortfolio app (and that’s not D2L’s fault, we can’t use it because of the method of single-sign on that we use) that will change some contexts, but maybe not all.

With all the statements about student-centred learning, faculty are asking for the ability to simplify access to ePortfolio content. I can see some benefit in the K-12 market as well for this behaviour (as much as I don’t particularly like it). If faculty are to guide students in good reflection, they should be able to randomly select someone (maybe blindly select from a group of people).

ePortfolios So Far…

So I’m the (self proclaimed) technical lead for the ePortfolio tool (which McMaster has rebranded Learning Portfolio). Actually I fell into the role when the person who was supposed to manage it ended up not being able to deliver the initial rollout presentation due to illness. The tool has worked admirably, scaled well, and frankly done its job. There are warts on the tool – maybe barnacles are a better imagery (to go a step further, barnacles can be removed  with a lot of hard work). The way one assembles a presentation (a sharable portfolio) is very mid 90’s – which makes the product a hard sell to student used to the ease of Tumblr or WordPress. Despite that major hurdle, we have seen over the first semester a moderate success, just over 21,700 items built in ePortfolio, with close to 3500 of those being reflections. We have over 3200 unique users, with just 17 courses using it. We’re now starting phase two of the first year, which will be periodic reminders to students, and we should see an uptick in usage – as well as an addition of two courses which will impact at least 1500 students. Now the real question is will students start to use it outside of classes?

Happy New Year

In the past I’ve looked at previous posts about what I think will happen, and reflect on those ideas. It’s not that I don’t think reflection is valuable, it’s just that I’m not that interested in navel gazing (hell, I can see my navel getting bigger by day).

This year, I’ll outline some of the projects I’m currently involved with and will try to write about this year.

Work Projects

So for work, I’m working on two large-ish projects. One is a Productivity and Innovation Grant funded project lead by the University of Guelph, around learning outcomes in D2L. What the project encapsulates is ensuring there’s alignment between course, program and ultimately University related outcomes – and the reporting that D2L will suggests where there are holes in the alignment. It seems like it will improve the Analytics/Insights tool greatly with global reporting options – which is something I’ve struggled with greatly.

The other, is around Learning Portfolios. The department that I’m embedded with has gotten some funding from the University to advance Learning Portfolios (the ePortfolio tool in D2L) on campus and it’s looking like we will be responsible for this area from here on out. I think that some improvements to the way the tool works by D2L will only help the adoption of the tool – however there’s still some major hurdles that have to be overcome before there’s widespread adoption. That’s not to say that adoption and use hasn’t grown greatly, it has – just the impact of the use so far has not produced enough of a ripple to spread campus-wide. That’s our job in year two. I’m putting in a Fusion 2014 proposal to co-present one of the really interesting stories from first semester that ties blended learning, learning portfolios and helping students reflect (in this case on career choices).

Personal Projects

Other than the banal things like redo the bathroom and visit more places, I’m putting out a record with my one band and releasing another record with my other band. Not very exciting unless you like hardcore punk.

While this is work-related, I want to put together a rubrics repository (like Rubistar, but much more focused on local courses, and local sharing) that has a series of rubrics saved covering higher education courses that the University teaches. This way, it gathers together some of the best work that faculty have done, recognizes them, allows them to set sharing permissions, and ultimately, choose to export as PDF or into D2L. This is a big project, and really not on anyone’s timeline, but I want it to happen. It’ll have to be open source, and to that end, maybe it doesn’t just spit into D2L but into Blackboard or other systems too. The first iteration will of course work with our system (D2L) and then maybe we can branch out.

I’d love to help update the Feed2JS codebase to get it WCAG 2.0 compliant.  I’d also love to blog more.

More About the Learning Portfolio

I’ve written a fair bit about my process for developing support materials – which is something I’ve become good at over the years. I haven’t really spent any time writing about some of the other, smaller initiatives around the Learning Portfolio. One of which is getting students to set their own learning goals.

It’s ironic that an institution (who have their goals for students) wants students to be self-directed, yet everywhere in their classes have very little choice in the way that they can determine their own goals and achieve them. This self determination is left to their own time, and is in every sense, not a part of school. However, the institution is certainly looking at ways that students can determine, set and track their own goals – and to that end, with a consultation with Desire2Learn, developed a widget that sits on the homepage that students can click on the link, enter their information on a form which creates an artifact in their ePortfolio/Learning  Portfolio. A small portion of the student population use the Learning Portfolio (about 5%-10% of our full time enrollment) but use is picking up. Use of the Learning Goals widget is also a large percent of that group – maybe making up 2% of our total population.

The idea with this widget is to get students thinking about their own goals and trying to tie those goals to their academic learning. I don’t know if there’s enough being done around this – and we’re only in the beginning, but some thinking needs to be done about this for sure. We aren’t tracking whether these goals are ever met, or even the content of these goals – in fact we only can make a guestimate based on how many times the title of the widget shows up in the Learning Portfolio object creation report.

I’d be interested in hearing about whether anyone’s doing major ePortfolio/Capstone project work – trying to encapsulate a student’s experience at University or College in that course/project – and ways that an ePortfolio might help that along. Sure, we know that portfolios are great for procedural/project based learning, especially when guided. I’m more interested in if this can be done institutionally. Really adding a great incentive to building this work.

Learning Portfolios So Far

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time, but I’ve only gotten my head above water about this in the last few days. Bear with me as semester start-itis hasn’t really cleared my system and I’m definitely fighting off a cold with flu like symptoms.

I’m very lucky to work at an institution with some pretty good vision from the top down. I’m not glad handing anyone here, I honestly mean it. Patrick Deane, McMaster’s President, has a vision, and put some institutional money behind enacting that vision. He’s identified the learning portfolio as something that students can use to document their learning journey. Watch the YouTube video for his take.

Admittedly, I have a vested interest in this idea working out, because I’m front and centre with this initiative around what we call Learning Portfolios, and what most of you call ePortfolios. I’ve ran over 20 workshops on the tool in the last year and a half, have become the defacto technical face of the thing, and well, I spent my summer working on it so that I can support the widespread use of it by faculty and students this year.

The summer has been a blur of activity – I’ve mostly had a chance to tweet about some of the things I’m doing, but here’s a quick rundown:

Figure out how to change the wording of ePortfolio in the D2L instance to Learning Portfolio

You’d think this was an easy thing – except that it’s buried in the Language options of the D2L admin settings.  To my dismay, it wasn’t as easy as changing one thing and it propagating to the hundreds of instances of the word throughout the system – it was hundreds of entries. Think it took 4 hours to manually go through and adjust this. After the upgrade to version 10.2 I needed to redo some of this work as the upgrade process either created new language entries or something got overwritten.

 Document how to use it

I’ve always believed in local documentation – I frankly hate using vendor documentation because it’s never specific enough to your particular install, nor does it illustrate why you would use it. I stayed away from the why, because that was for other people (students, namely) to decide. I did however create this repository of PDFs. 20 PDFs, articulating and well, showing students and faculty how to use the damn thing. There’s about 10 more that I want to do – these having to do with social media connections. While some of this stuff is documented in the vendor documentation, with us changing the name of the tool to something else, there is a high likelihood of confusion had we not done this. This whole thing took months of work, and isn’t close to being done. Also, I think we all recognize that students generally don’t use these systems because they aren’t as slick as Pinterest, or Facebook, or Tumblr. The ePortfolio tool is definitely not as slick as Tumblr, nor as easily customizable. So anything to get the technical details out of the way and into student hands is a desirable thing.

To that end I wrote scripts for twelve videos – eight of them are on YouTube. These were talked about in another post so I won’t go into much detail other than many people have really dug them. I think we’ll be doing more of these for not only the Learning Portfolio but also for the LMS.  With very little promotion, one video has 100 hits and the channel has 15 subscriptions, so it’s fair to say that people are interested in this type of support. More of these will have to be made.

Bend it to make it do what you want

One of the institutional goals is to help students take ownership of their learning and make explicit learning goals for themselves. With self-directed goals, many of them are not achievable in four years (or five, or fifteen even). We looked at some ways that might make sense for learners to create and self select their own goals. Ultimately, with some help from Desire2Learn, we settled on a form accessible via a widget that lives on the homepage of the LMS. That form allows the student to fill out a learning goal, making it explicit, do some thinking about it, and track it throughout your time at McMaster. So, we have a piece that does that in conjunction with the Learning Portfolio. I hope that Desire2Learn are thinking about adding this sort of functionality into the ePortfolio tool, because that gives users a giant reason why the ePortfolio tool is better than a blog, Tumblr or any other service in helping you make those connections.

Push out a template for students to use

Seeing as the institution wants to help students – what is the best way to help? There’s no one best way I’m sure, but one idea is that we push out a template to any student who registered in a course between Fall 2012 and Fall 2013. Our System Administrator looked at using the API to accomplish a push, however, there wasn’t enough time to test the script properly, so we are manually doing this. I have a CSV extract of all 30,000+ students who had the student role in at least a course over the last calendar year. I chop that down to 1000 student segments, enroll those students in a course, then push the template from my account into those student’s Learning Portfolio. Unenroll the students, after making course active due to a bug in D2L’s system (you can’t unenroll a person from a course while the course is inactive), and repeat the process.

I ramped up the numbers to 1000 (I started at 200, moved to 600, then 800, then a 1000), and that seems to be the best number to hold at. When I approached some of the ePortfolio team over the summer about our plans, they were concerned about a push to 20,000. I hope they work on the scalability of the tool going forward. Once I got into a rhythm, and used the 1000 enrollment levels, I knocked off 10,000 fairly quickly.

Fusion 2013 Recap

So I went to Fusion (Desire2Learn’s conference around their products and tools), presented a fairly well received workshop on how to embed an RSS feed into a widget or content page (thanks again to Cogdog aka Alan Levine, Barry Dahl and The Clever Sheep aka Rodd Lucier, for having some part in my ability to do that – perhaps even unbeknownst to them). I also presented how my institution added a Polling widget to our Org level homepage at the Unconference (thanks to Kyle Mackie and his band of very merry helpers in setting that up).

Most of all I stressed about travelling for the first time without my wife since, well, we got married (in 1995). Usually I fill a role in travel, that of planner, navigator, organizer – but she’s the fun and my social mediator. So frankly, I was worried that I would get to Boston, and well, not know what to do, or be the wallflower that I usually am. Thankfully, after arriving early enough on Sunday, getting oriented to the city (a bit) I fell into my usual travel routine and sort of discovered that I still know how to interact on my own. This year’s Unconference, my first, was well, pretty much what I expected. I didn’t expect weirdness galore –  however there was enough of that, but it was the perfect start to my experience at a conference. I got into a pretty good discussion of the why’s and workarounds and issues we’ve had with the Desire2Learn Learning Platform with Andy Freed and Dave Long.

I met a whole bunch of  people I follow on Twitter at the Unconference  – further proving that Twitter is my most important network of connections. Of course, I finally got a change to meet Barry Dahl in person, and of course, we hit it off. I have to admit, I was a bit scared to meet people in person. I always worry that real life is different than online, and well it may just be… well, awkward. I have to say that Barry is the same person online as he is in my real time interactions with him. Meeting the people I’ve interacted with online was the best thing that happened during the conference.


I arrived at the conference hotel proper, signed in and was assigned to the “Red Socks” team (others were the “Bobby Orrs”,  the “Larry Birds”, etc). The Twitter hashtag for the Red Socks was #RS, not #BS as I wanted to put in a bunch…. Ran into our D2L Account Manager, Lee, who’s honestly one of the best account managers I’ve known. Had a good chat with him, and moved on to talking to the ePortfolio team about all the different ways we want to employ ePortfolio at my institution. Got a really, really good sense of where the product is going, and if it works as easily as it should, the tool should be really, really beneficial to students.

I attended an introductory session on Analytics (now rebranded Insights), because I’m still a bit boggled by the tool, how it does great reports at the course level, but the interesting stuff for me anyways, is at the organizational level, and often I find that the damn tool doesn’t run. I don’t know if that’s me, not really understanding the tool, or the tool not working. Either way, this session didn’t really help, as it was truly an overview.

Lunch rolled around with an OK keynote by Michael Horn, talking about how education is ripe for disruption (like the Auto industry, Music industry or other industries). I guess the analogy doesn’t work in Canada where there’s a level of government involvement in the “competition” between institutions and how education is not a product to be purchased like music or automobiles. Also the charts he showed made no sense to me and communicated even less. John Baker had some suits from other corporations talk with him about education – which I guess was fine. Frankly, I am not a fan of suits, and while I’m sure I could’ve gleaned something from the discussion, all I kept thinking was “these guys are figuring out ways to sell me some product I don’t need”.

Checked out the new Document Templates in a session as well, which was interesting but we won’t have the time post upgrade to do anything with them. Perhaps down the road, but knowing how things work, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to find the time to do anything interesting with them.

Ended the day in a session with Jason Thompson from Guelph about their in-house PEAR tool, which stands for Peer Assessment and Review, which talks with D2L through the API. Probably the most interesting thing I learned today, which was mostly about the peer review process and something that I think will be important as a long-term goal with McMaster and it’s Learning Portfolio project.

In the evening we went bowling and played pool. I’m more of a people watcher but got to hang out with my new friends from Guelph and some old friends from Mohawk College, was good overall but slightly overwhelming. Walking back to the hotel was probably the most interesting thing I did, in the process went by the oldest firehall in Boston. The walk back to the Newbury Guest House was winding as I took an unexpected detour, but it all ended up fine. Part of the fun being in a different city is those weird explorations down roads unexpected. This was a good one.


Up early, to the conference early.. and well nerve wracked from the anticipation of presenting. I’m never calm about presenting no matter how familiar I am with the subject matter – I suspect that comes from my constant analysis of “what could go wrong?”. More on that later.

The sessions started really early – or maybe it was just me. Of course, I arrive and grab some stuff to eat, start to pour a coffee, and some people exiting the main hall pointed out that I was on the big screen, to which I responded to with a truly confused “huh?”. What a way to make you not hungry, having my mug up on screen twenty feet tall. My wife did say take pictures of yourself in Boston, so I did…

Was only a brief moment of celebrity. Note to self, hide better when Barry has a camera. Another note, compose your shots indoors and check to see if they work. As for the sessions on day two:

I started with the Heutagogy session which was interesting – talked a lot about self directed learning. I think one of the things that get in the way with Learning Management Systems in general is that there’s no mechanisms for students to determine pacing. This is something that I’ve come up against a fair bit – especially in MOOCs – where you would think that students being able to determine their own pacing might be a good thing. I wonder if something like this could be structured using the Checklist tool, students could opt-in to a voluntary “section” to graduate with – and then use restrictions to manage different dropboxes and quizzes? This session was an interesting starter to the day.

The next session I attended was Ohio State’s expanding the LMS session that delved into some of the issues of using third-party (mostly publisher) platforms integrated with the LMS. They did note that Pearson and McGraw Hill integrations were the most technically challenging which makes sense when those publishers have developed their own environments. While my institution isn’t thinking about this sort of stuff yet, it might get there sooner than later. It was interesting to hear and unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the follow-up session which was more technical in nature.

I then attended the ePortfolio lightning round – which may have been the best thing on Tuesday. There was a ton of ways that ePortfolio that is being used, but all of them are using the ePortfolio tool to be a reflective tool. Many find that they scaffold reflective practice at the first with forms to define “how to reflect” and then as the course develops, they tend to bring in less structured reflections. I think this is really valuable for our use in courses – in fact it’s some information that I’ve passed on to a couple instructors in discussions about how they can use the Learning Portfolio (which we’ve called it) at McMaster.

Lunch was next. Delicious. I have to say, the food was excellent throughout the conference. The keynote was from Karen Cantor, and to be honest it didn’t resonate at all because I was presenting right after lunch. Had some interesting conversations with my friends at Mohawk College again – not about work but about life in general.

I did my workshop right after lunch on RSS Feeds using Feed2JS and a bunch of other open source tools. I hit the wifi cutoff switch on my laptop mid demonstration and that lead me to switch to the house laptop for the finish. Panic was coursing through my veins, but I think I held it together pretty well.

After I finished it was a blur again, but I rounded out the day with the Web 2.0 tools “Free and Funky” session. There were a ton of tools listed but there were three that were new to me: Quizlet, Quietube and Twine. Out of all these tools, I should maybe document using some of these for our faculty – just to broaden their horizons as to what can be in content.

At the close of day, we had a police escort to the JFK Library/Museum, which was an awesome building. I ended up seeing 5% of it because, well, I was chatting with a bunch of people. There was more drinking, eating, some dancing (not by me) and after an ill advised stop at another bar, it was time for sleep.


The sessions everyday seem to start earlier (or maybe bedtime is later)? After a quick breakfast and only one incident of me on screen, I headed off to the sessions.

The first session I attended was a bit out of my wheelhouse, but it was on how ePortfolio was being delivered at the K-12 level. One of the best quotes I got from this session was “Course design is like playing chess”. Indeed it is, there was a lot of talk about nuts and bolts – one interesting concept was that rubrics being embedded with forms that are used as Exit Cards for each week. I wondered where the rubric information goes – back to the student obviously, but can it be connected to a dropbox?

The second was a session on Rubric and Competencies best practices – incredibly useful in my context as not a lot of faculty use Rubrics or Competencies – and I think we’ll need a Rubrics workshop and a Competencies workshop. In fact I hope that the language around the tool changes – and Competencies shift to Learning Objectives. The nice thing about this session was the takeaway in that we got some pre-built rubrics. I think we’ll be designing some basic rubrics (by taking the common assessment methods like essays, proposals and common critera like critical thinking, spelling, structure) and distributing through the org level of the Learning Environment.

I attended the Respondus LockDown Browser session, which was an interesting thing to think about. I know that issues of academic integrity (which is in and of itself a weird buzzword) in blended and online delivered courses are something that my institution might have to think about moving forward as they look at more blended learning projects. I don’t know that it was immediately valuable, but we’ll see if there’s something we can work with going forward. I’m always looking for things that are easy to integrate with the LMS, and this is one thing. I’m not particularly happy with the idea that it’s built off of Internet Explorer, because that browser frankly blows, but I understand their logic.

Day three’s lunch was again, delicious, but distinctly messy. I escaped unscathed, but man, I could imagine dropping pulled pork or baked beans on my shirt no problem… Alec Couros delivered the closing keynote, and even though I’ve seen most of the elements that Alec ran through – I really enjoyed seeing the whole thing put into context. He had a well deserved standing ovation. His keynote was entertaining and informative. A great way to close the conference.

EXCEPT there’s one more session – the last session was incredibly useful and unfortunately poorly attended. The last session was all about optimizing images for the web to make it more mobile friendly – I learned a ton from it. Mostly about the amazing tool Tiny PNG and the optimization tricks for JPG files for Retina Displays (double the pixel size, and use the media queries to shrink) to allow for higher pixel density. Also, I’ve always been pretty staunch about JPG optimization being at the higher level (80% or higher) because of the lossy compression that happens. The presenters were saving images at 40% and getting comparable quality for great filesize improvements. While that kind of nerditry is not necessarily important for anyone outside of developers, it is important for almost everyone who is putting a picture in a course, because that is going to be seen on a mobile device.