In the beginning there was grad school. That ended in 2010. Now what do I blog about?


September 15, 2011

LMS updates & implementations

Faculty 'buy-in' of a LMS is crucial to the success of the implementation or migration from an old LMS long after the technical issues have been resolved. If they can't get their courses to look and behave as they expect in the new LMS, they may feel anxious or discouraged.

Do we advise course builders and content managers to mimic their course design in the new LMS as it was in the old LMS, thus 'molding' the new LMS to be like the other LMS? 

If we do that then we never give the new LMS a fair chance to stand up on its own. The alternative is to somehow enable them to put aside preconceptions and start fresh, to rethink how they deliver their online courses materials and engage their students in online conversations and activities. That is a huge undertaking and I have no idea how to do it effectively for most faculty. 

It would be easy to suggest rebuilding in the new LMS in the format they used in the old LMS, however this completely negates the point of moving to a new LMS. 

So, what's your approach to getting faculty to re-think the structure of their online course resources, activities and their approach to teaching with an LMS?

June 14, 2011

Rethinking Selective Release

Selective release in a learning management system (LMS) is an option to pre-schedule or conditionally release content for student consumption. The content may be a quiz or survey, an assignment or a folder of content. The selective release criteria may be related to a date/time, such as the release of a quiz on a Friday at noon, or may be related to instructional scaffolding, such as the release of a quiz after a homework assignment has been submitted.

Recently, in an LMS user list-serv, someone inquired about selective release options for a quiz. The option is not available in the quiz itself, but is available in a module. I wondered why the LMS developers designed it this way. Was it an oversight in that they did not see a reason to add the function to individual pieces of content, or was it intentional, in that they wanted to force course builders to re-think their content delivery methods? Regardless of why it's not there in every piece of content, the fact that it is in the module function is interesting and is worth consideration.

We know that a computer does not teach, although much can be learned by using a computer. We know that course content standing alone may be useful, but is much more effective when presented in a way that facilitates learning. Selective release may be considered a tool to deliver course content in a way that facilitates learning. For example: a document, an assignment, a discussion forum and a quiz delivered on a course website. Some students may skip the reading and the discussion, complete the quiz and turn in the homework while others may begin the reading, find difficulty with the material and never complete anything else. With selective release, the course material can be organized in a way  that guides students through the material and directs their experience in a predetermined way. The reading and discussion board could be released simultaneously; the assignment could be released after the student has participated in a discussion and the quiz could be released after the homework has been submitted and/or graded.

Selective release can be set, in most cases, for specific dates/times. However, with recognition for different learning styles it may be a better approach to release upon completion of a prior task. This way, students can move through content at their own pace. Also, the instructor can monitor student progress through LMS reporting tools to track groups and individuals progress. For students who need additional help, the instructor may wish to redirect individually, or present guidance to the group as a whole. S/he may wish to enlist the aid of more advanced students to go back and help the struggling students complete their modules. Again considering learning styles, s/he may wish to develop advanced modules for students who quickly complete tasks, providing opportunities for higher order thinking.

Because the LMS has designed their product so that selective release is only available in the module tool, the migration period from the old LMS to the new LMS is a good opportunity to revisit course content organization and delivery methods.

  • In what ways do use selective release in your teaching? Or, for technologists and designers, do you advocate for use of selective release? If so, why and how?
  • If it could be determined that selective release does improve learning, do you think there would be a different approach for its use in traditional courses vs hybrid vs fully online courses?

Editorial assistance by Bonnie Greer, awesome proof-reader. Thank you!

    May 24, 2011

    Tweet this NERCOMP, part 3: Take advantage of a situation with Twitter search

    In #highered there are predictable events that are perfect opportunities to connect with people online, to follow and be followed by colleagues. I took some time this month to use Twitter search to add to my 'following' and 'follower' counts. Looking at Twitter stats I can see it paid off, with @NERCOMP finally hitting and passing the 300 mark this week. 

    It’s commencement season. Faculty dust off their regalia for the ceremony. Big name speakers fly in to give speeches and receive honorary degrees. Graduates and their families hustle from one gathering to the next, taking note of every detail about this milestone. For college Twitter users, there is much to share. 

    Students move out of the dorm. Seniors say goodbye to friends and professors and distribute their contact information, asking for reference letters. Families infiltrate area hotels and wander aimlessly around campus, taking photos of each other in front of buildings, statues, iron gates. Facilities workers scramble to keep up with spring rains, subsequent floods and sudden, urgent needs for tents and canopies over outdoor events. There is much to see and do, and even though school is now over, there is much to discover.

    While Twitter still isn’t widely used among Americans aged 12-22, it is used by college and university departments. A simple Twitter search for #commencement yields valuable data. It’s an easy way to data mine for college Twitter accounts. I have been taking time to run this simple search to add to my ‘nehighered’ Twitter list (north east, that is, not New England), a list that helps me keep tabs on news and info in my field. 

    The #commencement tweets also make good RT’s for @NERCOMP. Sharing updates from a variety of campus ceremonies is a fun way to help area #highered Twitter users connect with each other. If I (via @NERCOMP) RT something from @TuftsLive  maybe someone from @BryantUniv will start following them, and someone from VT Law School might follow as well, creating a minor surge in #highered community building. Twitter is still new and there is much to learn in using Twitter for marketing and communications, so tapping into the #highered Twitter community knowledge base is helpful. If the @NERCOMP account can facilitate those connections, it's #awesome #winning.

    And by searching for #commencement tweets, not only did I find the ‘official’ Twitter accounts for several NE colleges, I also found more tweeting faculty and staff which I added to my list. I look forward to their regular work-day tweets after commencement season has closed, and to engage and develop professional relationships with them. There is no telling when I would have come across those folks - finding their #commencement tweets was an unexpected reward in this endeavor.

    What other types of campus events are good opportunities for engaging social networks?

    April 23, 2011

    What to tweet and when: Twitter for an organization. Part 2

    There are times my Twitter stream is afire with interesting and re-tweetable information. Other times, not much grabs me. Maybe it's me, maybe it's a slow news day. Whatever the case, when I’m tweeting for me, it’s not a big deal. When I’m tweeting for an organization, it matters.

    Conversation is something not everyone does well and not even the best at it are good 100% of the time. On Twitter, it's no different. For my account, if I got nothing to say, I tweet nothing. But tweeting for NERCOMP presents a challenge - I need to keep the conversation going. Fortunately, there is a plenty to choose from when selecting tweets for those days when there doesn’t seem to be much to tweet about.

    1. Events: NERCOMP hosts events all year round. The annual event in March and dozens of SIG (special interest group) events plus board of director meetings, committee functions and assorted member gatherings. Lisa DiMauro keeps us posted on what is happening through the member email list. It is real easy to add these events to Twitter and they can be tweeted more then once- such as when registration first opens, a few weeks later, and then just before the event. Calls for events, such as the annual conference, are good, too.

    2. Organization news: Organizations with boards and committees have regular meetings, announcements and news to share. Tweets can be crafted from meeting minutes, organizations updates such as committee elections and board nominations. I generally wait until the big news items hit the org’s website, then not only do I know I am sharing information that is already public, I can add a link to the site so readers can get more info beyond the 100+ character note.

    3. Member updates: Following members’ Twitter accounts is helpful. Keep an eye on what member institutions are doing and RT some of their events and announcements. Celebrate their good news and add to the community and conversation building.

    April 10, 2011

    Tweet this, NERCOMP: Twitter for an organization. Part 1

    A little background

    While with my former employer I set up a Twitter account for my department and nurtured it to over 1750 followers. When I left for my new job I immediately missed managing a Twitter account for a group or organization. So I found an alternative. As of March this year, I am officially tweeting for @NERCOMP ( the Northeast Regional Computing Program, an affiliate of EDUCAUSE.

    Dave Wedaman, @wedaman on Twitter, and treasurer with the NERCOMP Board of Directors, help to create this position. Together he and I defined responsibilities affiliated with this role and drafted a short list of goals. It was a a good exchange of ideas and concerns to which we easily came to a mutual agreement. Dave is a regular Twitter user (that’s how we met) which helped a great deal. It would not have been easy to make this arrangement if I had to sell Twitter to Dave; he was already a loyal consumer. After obtaining official organization approval, Dave gave me the go ahead to get started.

    First things first

    @NERCOMP already had an account and someone tweeting from time to time. There were slightly over 200 followers which isn’t bad for a lightly used account. But NERCOMP has over 270 member organizations so I knew there must be hundreds more potential followers out there. Building follower relationships requires engagement. Twitter is an ongoing conversation. To build relationships our part of the conversation must be engaging, thoughtful, and interesting. Having robust conversations requires followers. In summary: post interesting things to gain followers and communicate with followers to find more interesting things to share. But before I could begin, I needed to clean house a bit and set up a means to monitor the account and track activity.

    Twitter tools

    First I swapped out the old purple with yellow stars background and the old Twitter layout. I used COLOURlovers Themeleon to update the look and feel of the page. I didn’t go nuts with customization; I simply chose a theme that was modest and clean. The next thing I did was update the profile info on the account so when we have visitors from outside our region they could understand who we are. I was sure to include the fact that we are an EDUCAUSE affiliate; it gives us a little higher ed street cred.

    Next, I associated the account with the few Twitter tools I have found to be reliable and helpful when managing a business or organizational account.

    1. HootSuite ( I love this web based Twitter client. I can easily access and post to my Twitter accounts (as well as my Facebook, Linkedin, Foursquare and Ning accounts). It provides some simple tools for tracking clicks and includes the option for scheduling tweets (more on that in a future post). There is also a page to view followers and see how many followers they have along with klout score.
    2. TwitterCounter ( Every week I get an email with a quick at-a-glance summary of follower activity. I can grab a few snapshots of recent activity (number of tweets compared to number of followers) to save as an archive of account growth. These weekly snapshots as a visualization of our engagement - when I see a spike in the data I can go back and track down that day or a specific tweet and find out why we had significant activity.

    3. Gmail ( I created an alias account in Gmail. Whenever the NERCOMP Twitter account has a new follower, an email is sent to that alias GMail account, and it is filtered and tagged with a label. It gives me a heads up about new follower activity in between TwitterCounter reports. When I see a big name in higher ed now following, I can follow back and shoot out a welcome and thanks message to them. On the days I see a surge in new followers it is because of something recently tweeted or retweeted, thus drawing my attention to whatever was effective for building relationships in that instance.

    In the last month we have gone from 216 to 262 followers. Modest growth considering we just had our annual conference, but the quality of engagement is good. Those new followers are adding something to the conversation and sharing our tweets with their followers. My goal is to keep growth steady, by nurturing the relationships and reaching out to a broader audience.

    More post coming on this endeavor, including why I use a Twitter client to manage the account; deciding what to tweet and when; followers and following; conference and event tweeting and organization representation.

    April 05, 2011

    Viral Marketing With The Oatmeal - Matthew Inman SXSW

    I rarely do this, post other people's stuff on my blog. But this is too good to not share. It is an hour long video/audio lecture capture of Matt Inman's SXSW session in March 2011. If you like web comics, web marketing, zombies, cats, unicorns and laughter, it is worth a viewing. Or two.

    February 21, 2011

    That’s how we work the day away, in the merry old land of Oz

    For this post I pulled a few quotes from the Wizard of Oz movie as I was reflecting on my first weeks of my new job.

    Patience seems to be the common thread here, so after writing this, I have set new objectives for myself: 1) go to bed earlier to get more sleep, in an effort to combat irritability 2) take walks during the day, to combat restlessness and 3) keep things in perspective, especially perceptions of power.

    Cowardly Lion: I- I- I hope my strength holds out.
    Tin Woodsman: [hanging by Lion's tail] I hope your tail holds out!

    I haven’t done anything significant in months. My last two months at UMass were tying up loose ends, drafting transition plans and having farewell lunches. I can now understand the frustration my husband has been feeling in the last 4 or five months since his business slowed - he goes to his print shop every day but there is nothing that needs printing; he is stagnant, waiting for orders to come in. I have also felt stagnant - like I’m not doing enough each day. Its a horrible feeling for a project-centered, task orientated overachiever like me to not be able to do something significant. My irritability may be a result of too few opportunities to do what makes me happy. I need to be patient with the situation and perhaps find another outlet for the time being, so I don’t burn out. The irritability may also be due to my being overly tired, considering that I start my day an hour earlier but still go to bed at the same time as I used to.

    Dorothy: Where do you want to be oiled first?

    My tendency is to find things that need fixing such as to update old content, rebuild broken pages, streamline processes, weed out unnecessary tasks and develop new strategies to attack work. I love to create things, build things, make things pretty and well functioning. A large part of me feels ready to dig in. But, I don’t know enough yet.

    I can’t start fixing things because I don’t know what’s broken. I can’t start building things because it is not clear yet what my boundaries are. I don’t want to step on any one’s toes and I don’t want to waste time doing something someone else is doing or planning to do. So it’s a bit frustrating - wanting to work on things and solve problems, but not knowing what to do or where to begin. It’s been a significant down-shift since leaving my old job, from go-go-go to wait-wait-wait. I need to be patient and find something to do to get my mind off it. Spring is coming. The few warm days we’ve had I took advantage of by going for walks at lunch time. One day I left the office, walked to another neighborhood, found a place for lunch and just hung out for an hour. It felt good. I may need to do that once in awhile to combat the restlessness and mild sense of lack of control.

    Wizard of Oz: You, my friend, are a victim of disorganized thinking. You are under the unfortunate impression that just because you run away you have no courage; you're confusing courage with wisdom.

    Part of what I loved about UMass and why I was so successful there is that I got to pick and choose my projects, manage my own time, and take the lead on most of what I was involved in. I worked in an academic department with great support and enthusiastic approval from the chair’s office. At first the perception was that I was support staff in the department, but I left as a department leader, and perhaps even an institutional leader. I made a name for myself there by listening, to people, making connections, innovating and sharing what I learned along the way. I pushed the boundaries and worked hard to be taken seriously and earn respect of faculty and administrators. Those things did not come with my position title nor were they in my job description.

    I am not sure yet what the true organizational schema is here. Yes, there is a traditional org chart, but there are many, many MANY references to a collaborative environment. It will take some time to find out exactly what that means. I also work on the institutional level, in the general all purpose computer services area. There are significantly different business needs between an academic department and a computer services department. Its going to take some time to come to terms with my role in the system here just as it was at UMass. What is unknown - and scary - is where the boundaries lie.

    A challenge is for me to not over-think the title given and the box I’ve been placed to work in. I need it to figure where I am and what I can do here in this new (to me) organizational structure. I can’t confuse the on-paper org structure with the real org structure because sometimes things aren’t always what they seem to be.

    Wizard of Oz: To confer, converse, and otherwise hob-nob with my brother wizards.

    Without question the biggest benefit of this transition is the people. I like my coworkers. I enjoy their company. I like the conversations we have when we’re brainstorming and troubleshooting. I like learning about tools and applications they find useful. I like that we all speak the same language when it comes to technology for teaching and learning. I can learn from them and they can learn from me. I look forward to the work we will do together.

    I used to outsource my need to connect with like minded people to Twitter. I would always turn to Twitter friends when I needed help with troubleshooting code, needed a second opinion on a page layout, needed recommendations for an app or platform. I turned to Twitter because in my stream of highered and web professionals, there were real live people who could answer my questions and provide help. In real life, at the time, I was in an office by myself in a department where no one really understood what I did or how I did it. Now, at Brown, I am in a room with people who do what I do. Question? Say it out loud. Need help? Ask. Need an editor? There’s two or three right there. It’s very different, and very cool.

    Source for quotes: internet movie database

    January 09, 2011

    Goals for 2011

    Setting goals for 2010 early in the year was helpful as I reported in the fall. I hadn't given much thought to setting goals for 2011 until I caught Sarah Stewart's 'What are your goals for 2011?' post last week.

    Like Sarah, time management is an issue for me; it always is. I find myself working many more hours than required. And because my work is in technology, I find myself spending far too much time around computers and the internet. I used to have 'tech-free Sundays' but that sort of fizzled after a bit, and I'm not even sure when it ended. I think having at least 2 completely tech-free Sundays would be a good goal. I'll have to reconcile that with the iPod Touch I got for Christmas because, dammit, that thing is addictive as hell.

    Professionally, I need to get a paper finished. I started working on a paper detailing the development and launch of the Lois Green Learning Community, a Ning network for medical professionals in palliative care and hospice medicine. I need to focus on that for the first half of the year and try to have something for submission by late spring. That point will mark the time when I when can begin taking classes again, although I've not yet decided what course of study will I pursue. However, I do know that I will take classes as soon as my tuition assistance benefit kicks in.

    Socially, I plan to continue to involve myself in the Worcester Bloggers scene. There are a decent amount of people who blog about the city, its citizens and politicians, and the variety of community activities happening. Although Worcester is not my primary interest, the people who blog about it are. What interests me are the processes, applications and results of efforts. It's inspiring to be around people who don't get paid to do what they do, are not professional journalists, but who are regarded as significant members of the community. In that group are a handful of higher ed professionals so its great to talk with them in a more casual setting about interests aside from building web pages, developing social media strategies, and working with faculty.

    Personally, I will continue working on some sort of health and fitness regimen. Hiking, walking, disc golf, gardening were all good last year. I can still do more. Maybe that will come into play with the tech-free Sundays. I'm toying with the idea of climbing Mt Wachusett once a month throughout the year. Before I commit to that fully (although I sort of did by writing it here) I need to find out how many months the trails are open for hikers. If anyone knows, please pass along the info.