Saturday, June 28, 2008

Search Engine Optimization-- eXtension conference

Andrew Barnett from Fleishman Hillard gave a thoughtful presentation about how to manage your website in ways that effectively take advantage of people's use of search engines. Here are some highlights:

Write for four audiences on the web
1. Readers
2. Editors (including bloggers)
3. Google

Barnett suggested that Google uses keywords, relevance, the authority of the website and links from other websites as a basis for ranking the results on a search. A critical first step in writing for search engines is using keywords. Keywords are those words and phrases that a person in likely to use if they are searching for information. Barnett suggested that web authors need to examine their work to see what words would likely be used by others. He also suggested using software tools like Google Trends, Wordtracker, Google Adwords, to see how the keywords you select are being used by the search engines. Google Keyword will search on a specific URL (webpage) and analyze the likely keywords that would be used to find this page.

Once the keywords are identified the next step is using the keywords in the title, subheads, and text of the article. Barnett notes that using keywords should not be done in ways that distract from the reading or overused. He also suggests that no more than 2-3 keywords be connected to each page. (this suggests that short articles may be better.)

Additionally, using keywords to create links to other information makes the keyword more attractive to search engines. Take a look at Wikipedia and how keywords are linked in it.

Links are also important in search optimization.

A link is an editorial endorsement suggesting that this article/page is worth viewing. Links are more difficult to fudge than keywords so they have more "power" in searches. For keywords that many other websites are also using, the "number of links" make a difference in whose page gets listed higher in the search results.

So how do you build links? First, you make sure your pages are linked by all the people and websites that you know. You also will be linked by providing good content! Other ways to build links is by using feeds to distribute your content, publishing unique content and citing content from other relevant sites.

Participating in various forums, listservs, social networks, blogs and so forth are other ways to get the word out about your website and engage others in linking to your website.

Web 2.0: The Web is US/ing us

The opening keynote presentation at the eXtension Communities of Practice Conference was given by Dr. Michael Wesch, Kansas State University.

Wesch's talk began with his stories of Papua New Guinea a place he worked as a cultural anthropologist. It was a place with limited "communication media (no radio, TV, electricity, etc.). Only a small portion of the population could read and write. In part, he told the story of how this is changing, but generally he used this as a contrast to our society (U.S.) in order to help us begin to think about how our "media tools" shape who we are. In his talk he returned again and again to this quote:

"We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us." Marshall McLuhan.

Wesch illustrated his main point with the follow YouTube video about Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us. This is a short wonderful example of what is happening with the web, but he also illustrates how we are becoming the web and how the web is using us. (that is, if the web is becoming "user-generated content" and that content is about us then we are becoming the "web.").

He also told the story about this video going viral and emerging as the #1 video on YouTube on Superbowl Sunday-- reminding us that even on a day when there are these powerful videos produced a big corporations with lots of financial resources that the "little guy" can still compete in this world with an engaging, entertaining and in this case, educational video.

Another part of this presentation reminded us that it is very hard for us to think about the future and prepare for the future. Again a quote from Marshall McLuhan, " We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future. "

One aspect of his talk that I disagreed with was his notion of whether or not YouTube was creating "community." He notes that there are 200,000 new 3- minute videos added to YouTube per day and that about 10,000 of these videos are about by viewers who are talking the the YouTube community. In short, people are telling personal stories about their lives directly to the "YouTube community." (Note: Lots of blogs, twitter, and social networking sites have similar material.)

Wesch argues that there is a significant loss of community in general. His hypothesis is that community is being built through the "YouTube community" and other social media platforms. As an aside he notes that these media are not replacing F2F, but these media are being used to connect people. Showed a video of a the video of "Free Hugs" that shows people connected through YouTube. Another viral video (over 27 million views) ... is this really "building community?" I think we need to know a lot more about online community building.

There were many other key parts of this presentation and when it become available online it is definitely worth watching. Here is one final quote from him that was his prediction about the future of the web, computing, etc.
"We are moving towards
social network of
people, and
Michael Wesch

Higher Education as Transformation

"For transformative education to take place there really needs to be a much more experiential form of learning, for people to actually engage in processes of change, to try things out from themselves, to address real world problems, and to realize that not all solutions can be found easily. And it’s when you start to ask the hard questions and grapple with some intractable problems that you begin, perhaps, to open up opportunities to learn in a different way."

This quote comes from a report by edited by Paul Taylor for the Global University Network for Innovation.

Although the focus of this is not particularly about technology in education, it still emphasizes conversation, dialogue and participation in talking about how education can be transformative. We should continue to think about how all educational experiences can be engaging.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Links & References to eXtension 2.0 talk

Links, References & Further Reading
Hughes, Jr., R. eXtension 2.0: Interaction, Participation & Community. Paper presented at the National eXtension Community of Practice Conference, June 24, 2008, Louisville, KY.

For further discussion with the Presenter:

Introduction to Web 2.0 and eXtension 2.0
Web 2.0 definition:

Successful web services

Fogg, B. J., & Eckles, D. (2007). The behavior chain for online participation: How successful web services structure persuasion. In Y. de Kort et al., (Eds.), Persuasive Technology (pp. 199-209). Heidelberg Springer Berlin.


Active Learning
Bransford, J. D., Brown, Ann L., Cocking, R. R. (2000). How people learn. Washington, DC: National Academy Press

Example FAQ:

Example of Quiz:

Cosmo Polls:

Examples of analysis tools for learning:

Financial Calculator:

Cotton Production Management Calculator:

eNewsletters & Feeds
Just In Time Parenting

eTips My Horse University:

eXtension feeds:

Example of pictures, audio & video:

How Stuff Works
Knot Tying


Basic User participation: See comments and ratings on this page:

User-Generated Content websites:


Science & Society: Blogs, media and other discussions

Google Trends:

Interacting and paradoxical forces in neuroscience and society
Jennifer Singh, Joachim Hallmayer, and Judy Illes

Keelan, J., Pavri-Garcia, V., Tomlinson, G., & Wilson, K. (2007). YouTube as a source of information on immunization: A content analysis. Journal of the American Medical Association, 298(21), 2482-2484.

Hughes, Jr., R. (2008). Blogs and science: The autism-vaccine debate.

Science 2.0: Platform for Participatory Science (some examples)

US Geological Survey; Did you feel it?
Illinois Early Childhood Asset map
Mayo, E., & Steinberg, T. (2007). The Power of Information.Retrieved from on June 19, 2008.

Nielsen, J. (2006). Participation inequality: Encouraging more users to participate. Retrieved from on June 19, 2008.


Brown, J. S., & Adler, R. P. (2008). Minds on fire: Open education, the long tail, and learning 2.0. Educause Review, 43(1), 17-32. Available online:

Butler, B., Sproll, L., Kiesler, S., Kraut, R. (2008). Community effort in online groups: Who does the work and why. (pp. 171- 193). In S. Weisband (Ed.). Leadership at a distance: Research in technologically-supported work. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum. Available online:

eXtension 2.0-- Interaction, Participation & Community

(This post is a summary of my presentation at the eXtension-- Community of Practice Conference, June 24-27, 2008, Louisville, KY USA.)

A key part of our success in the online world is to take the lessons from our experiences as extension educators and create similar tools online. Extension work has never been solely about delivering research-based information to the public; it has always been about creating communities of people engaged in learning together and encouraging people to teach each other. This is the foundation of 4-H clubs, women's extension organizations, farmer groups, and so forth. The central processes of successful extension work have been creating active learning situations that engaged people, fostering participation in teaching and learning and creating community. This presentation explores the tools and methods for creating these processes online.

A Model for Successful Web Services

Fogg and Eckles (2007) outline a model that they identified as common for successful web services. They note that there are three phases—discovery, superficial involvement, and true commitment. Within each of these phases they note that web designers have created multiple processes that facilitate specific target behaviors. By engaging web visitors in these behaviors, they move people from discovery to commitment.

Active and Interactive Learning

Although the first level of interaction with material on a website may be to read the information, it is possible to do a lot more. To engage people in thinking about ideas and trying out new practices, it is often useful to create opportunities for them to interact with the material. For example, you can have people test their knowledge about a topic by taking a simple quiz. Newspapers and magazines are filled with quiz games that you have to flip to the back to find the answers. Surveys or polls are another easy way to get people to interact with information. This gives people an opportunity to see how others think about the same issue. With the use of audio and video it is possible to develop a wide range of interactive experiences including games, simulations, illustrations, demonstrations, analysis tools, stories, puzzles, explorations, and more. Mayo and Steinberg (2007) propose a bold scheme for the United Kingdom in which the government would develop a platform for using government-generated data about all types of activities (e.g., health data, economic data, crime information, etc.) so that citizens and companies can use the data to create their own new analyses, guides, and so forth. Translating this idea for land-grant universities would mean providing not just the results of research, but the data themselves.


"I think that participation is the saving of the human race. Participate in games, puzzles, fun, storytelling and when you're grown up participate in education….. It's the key to the future of human race-- participation. " Pete Seeger, 2008.

eXtension should engage people to participate with others around the topics and issues. This could mean using blogs and wikis for forums in which to address current topics and controversial ideas. One way to address myths and misconceptions is to actively engage in thoughtful dialogue about these ideas. Our web presence should be a place in which the public can rely on thoughtful analysis and critical thinking about topics. We should invite the public into helping to develop ideas, thinking, and new solutions. This should not be a one-way broadcast.

Nielsen (2006) offered the following suggestions for increasing user participation: make it easy to contribute, make contributing a side activity, allow users to edit templates or material rather than create from scratch, highlight quality contributions and contributors.


One of the hallmarks of successful extension work has been the creation of learning communities that persisted over time. Whether through 4-H clubs, women's organizations and farmer cooperatives, effective extension work has brought people together to learn. The most robust and effective learning has always taken place within groups of people who learned from one another. Success in the online world will require a similar attention to the creation of communities. Creating communities online requires that we attend to issues of community building. This is not a teaching or information process, it is a social process. Success in community building either F2F or online requires attention to issues of creating a welcoming environment where people are treated with respect and people are encouraged to share ideas and information. Studies of successful online communities indicate that people participate for social reasons-- to meet and get to know people, to have fun, to be appreciated for their ideas and contributions, and to gain visibility (Butler, et al., 2008). Long-term success in creating sustainable online communities will require much attention to community building.

In short, the development of eXtension should continue to develop richer interactive learning opportunities, more avenues of participation and more community building efforts.


Butler, B., Sproll, L., Kiesler, S., Kraut, R. (2008). Community effort in online groups: Who does the work and why. (pp. 171- 193). In S. Weisband (Ed.). Leadership at a distance: Research in technologically-supported work. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum. Available online:

Fogg, B. J., & Eckles, D. (2007). The behavior chain for online participation: How successful web services structure persuasion. In Y. de Kort et al., (Eds.), Persuasive Technology (pp. 99-209). Heidelberg: Springer Berlin.

Mayo, E., & Steinberg, T. (2007). The Power of Information. Retrieved from on June 19, 2008.

Nielsen, J. (2006). Participation inequality: Encouraging more users to participate. Retrieved from on June 19, 2008.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

eXtension-- evaluation, FAQs, and keyword searching

This post covers three topics: evaluation, FAQs, and search optimization.

Evaluation of Just In Time Parenting

This session focused on evaluating website information. Sally Martin, the Just In Time Parenting team leader in evaluation, was the lead presenter.

She provided an overview of the development of the evaluation tools for Just In Time Parenting.

Much of the work was traditional evaluation best practice that involved creating survey items that matched the content. The tool was pilot-tested by potential parents to check for readability and clarity. The items were also reviewed by other professionals. All of this resulted in a revised tool.

She also described the infrastructure so that the data obtained from this survey can be shared at the county and state levels. A guide to evaluation has been developed and posted at:

The Financial Planning group talked about an evaluation questionnaire that they designed to assess people's reactions to the FAQs. They have only had "three" responses so far. There was much discussion about "too much" evaluation and asking too many questions. The FAQ survey was viewed by some as overkill. Sally Martin made a useful point that we should be piloting our evaluation strategies to see what others think about these rather than launching full-blown evaluation efforts that the public will respond to.


Identified "high maintenance" FAQs that are likely to change, get updated or have web links. These FAQs are reviewed at least annually. This is a good reminder that some questions need more attention than others.

The Consumer Horticulture group is using Master Gardeners to answer consumer questions and to conduct reviews of FAQs. This is a good example of involving the public in the website.

Search Engine Optimization

Keyword Research

One of the first steps on effective use of keywords is to begin to understand the popularity of various keywords. There are a couple of tools that will help with this. These are:


Google Adwords

By putting keywords into these tools you can find out how often people are using these words in searches. In some cases this will also also provide information about how many other sites are using these keyword (that is, what kind of competition is there for this keyword).

What to do to improve using keywords to work with search engines?

1. Integrate keywords into headings and subheadings in the page.
2. Use the keywords to link to other pages.
3. However, don't let keywords distract from providing people with useful information.

eXtension-- opening session, Louisville, KY

Thanks to wireless access throughout the Brown Hotel, I can sit in the meeting room and type you this message as the opening session begins.

One quick observation regarding participants in eXtension is that there are now three "communities of practice" that have ties to "family life." In addition to Just In time Parenting there is the Family Caregiver group and the newly formed "child care" team. Our colleagues are spread across these teams. Clearly we have numerous issues in common and there are many joint opportunities, issues and topics that we can explore together. As we go forward we should think about how we work across these teams.

All the conference presentations are being recorded so you have the opportunity to watch the program as well. These will all be linked to the eXtension wiki. As this unfolds I will add these links directly.

I have tagged all the entries of "COP_2008" so you can find all our entries for the conference in one place.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

National Conference on Extension Communities of Practice

I thought it would be nice to include you in our participation in the conference this week so I invited Diana Del Campo, Aaron Ebata and Sally Martin to join me on my blog to post some things about the conference during the week.

I have subscribed all of you to the blog so you will get our posting as email, but if you really want to participate and comment about our ideas, then you will have to go to the blog and comment directly. (Note: You are getting this email as a first posting so you could comment on this to begin with.)

I don't think we will overwhelm you with email, but I do hope that by our reporting information and ideas that this will be a way of continuing to develop Just In Time Parenting.

Here is the agenda for the conference. If you see any sessions that you think we should definitely attend, please let us know. We look forward to our blog conversation.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Nielsen on RSS, Feeds and Users-- this will surprise many

Jakob Nielsen provides a lot of very insightful information about designing for the web. Here are a few results from his recent work looking at email newsletters and news feeds. One of the big areas of buzz among the net savvy are the use of "feeds" and aggregators of content. So what has Nielsen been finding among typical users-- maybe not what you think.

Do people know what RSS means?

"In our most recent study, 82% of users had no idea what this term referred to. In general, it’s typically wrong to use implementation-oriented terminology, because most users don’t understand the underlying technology and don’t care about it. It’s better to use terms that indicate what the concept does for users, and “news feeds” does this far better than “RSS.”

Some users were familiar with the general idea of feeds, even if they didn’t know the term “RSS.” This was typically because they were receiving feeds on their My Yahoo! page or a similar personalized portal."

Do users like news feeds?

"Users had very mixed feelings about feeds. Some people liked viewing information from multiple sites in a single centralized location instead of having to go to each site. Some users also liked scanning a list of headlines without seeing any content that they didn’t ask for. A final benefit some users appreciated was the ability to determine when they would go and view their news items. This is in contrast with newsletter arrival times, which users can’t control.

On the other hand, many users had negative feelings about feeds. People who are already suffering from information overload resent having to go to yet another source of information. In contrast, email newsletters arrive in a tool that people already use, so they don’t add yet another thing for over-burdened users to do. Email is also easier to archive for later use, whereas feeds have an ephemeral nature."

How do users read news feeds?

"Also, our eyetracking of users reading news feeds showed that people scan headlines and blurbs in feeds even more ruthlessly than they scan newsletters. When you appear in somebody’s news reader, your site has a diminutive footprint that’s rubbing shoulders with a flood of headlines from many other sites. Under these conditions, users often read only the first two words of a headline, so it’s crucial to have brief headlines and to start them with the most information-carrying words."

So how do news feeds compare to email newsletters?

"News feeds are definitely not for everybody, and they’re not a replacement for email newsletters. Feeds can supplement newsletters for sites that cater to users who prefer a centralized view of headlines. These are primarily newspaper sites and other sites with a heavy focus on news and breaking stories, as well as sites that target Internet enthusiasts. For sites that target mainstream business users or a broad consumer audience, news feeds may be less important. Such sites might be better off emphasizing higher-quality newsletters and a choice of publication frequency.

Feeds are a cold medium in comparison with email newsletters. Feeds don’t form the same relationship between company and customers that a good newsletter can build. We don’t have data to calculate the relative business value of a newsletter subscriber compared to a feeds subscriber, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out that companies make ten times as much money from each newsletter subscriber. Given that newsletters are a warmer and much more powerful medium, it is probably best for most companies to encourage newsletter subscriptions and promote them over feeds on their website."

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Online Lectures Should be Short

An article in the Chronicle for Higher Education notes that some professors have begun to figure out that long lectures that are great live are boring when streamed online.

Dalton A. Kehoe, an associate professor of communication studies at York University, in Toronto, has for decades won teaching awards and praise for his lectures. So when he was asked to do his first online course, a couple of years ago, he was excited to head into a studio to capture his 50-minute talks on video.

When the recordings went online, however, they were anything but hits. The main complaint: They were much too long.

"It was the most extremely boring thing my students had ever seen," Mr. Kehoe acknowledges. His course evaluations, usually glowing, grew dismal.

The article seems to recommend that lectures be 20 minutes in length, but my guess is that 3-5 minute audio lectures would be more appropriate. In general, it is important to note that there is little data on this issue so all of us are just guessing.

The idea that long lectures are boring should give pause to the efforts to stream classes and do webcasting of lectures given in lecture halls. This stuff is likely to be very deadly.

There are a lot of things that should be learned from radio and television about audio and video. For example, most "talk" radio and television includes multiple voices. There are many interview shows that use "dialogue" rather than "monologue" to discuss serious ideas in-depth. This may a much better format for lectures that the typical person standing at the podium or solitarily recording a lecture.

This does not mean as some of have suggested that short lectures result in "short" ideas being discussed. It means that ideas are presented in short segments with clear paths to the next idea or an activity that allows the student to explore the idea in an exercise, discussion, and so forth. This is really just good teaching. The long lecture was never the best way to teach in the first place.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Guidelines on Designing Email Newsletters

Email newsletters are a powerful way to reach people. In this report Nielsen provides an analysis of effective email newsletters and guidelines for design.

Although only the summary is available for free, there are some important suggestions in the summary.

Here are a few highlights that caught my attention:

Length of time it takes to subscribe & unsubscribe:

"In our latest study, the subscribe process took 4 minutes, and the unsubscribe process took 1.5 minutes. Even though these task times are not prohibitive, they’re much too long for the simple functionality involved."

We recommend setting a usability goal of allowing an existing user to unsubscribe in less than a minute, assuming that the user has a recent copy of the newsletter at hand. New subscriptions should also take less than a minute when subscription requires only the user's email address. Even if additional information is required, users should be able to subscribe to free newsletters in less than 2 minutes. Only newsletters that involve a subscription fee should be allowed so many steps that the average user can’t subscribe in 2 minutes.

Does anyone read email newsletters?

"The most frequent complaint in our study was about newsletters that arrived too often. And, when we let them vent, the most frequent advice our study participants had for newsletter creators was to “keep it brief.”

Newsletters must be designed to facilitate scanning. In our first study, 23% of the newsletters were read thoroughly. In our third study, four years later, only 19% of the newsletters were read thoroughly. The drop in percentage of thoroughly read newsletters is a good indication of the increased volume of email that users have to process."

How often should you send email newsletters?

"Users will often avoid signing up for newsletters because they feel crushed by information overload. It is the job of the newsletter publisher to convince users that the newsletter will be simple, useful, and easy to deal with.

A predictable publication frequency that is not too aggressive is usually best, except for newsletters that report breaking news. A regular publication schedule lets users know when to look for the newsletter and reduces the probability that they’ll confuse it with spam and delete it.

Also, writing good subject lines is crucial, both in encouraging users to open the newsletter and helping them distinguish the newsletter from spam. We recommend including content from the issue in each subject line, even though it's a difficult job to write good microcontent within the fifty- to sixty-character limit that many email services impose."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Why Wikipedia can never be "WikiLearning"

Wikipedia can never be a platform for learning and instruction because the basic transaction or base unit is wrong. Wikipedia cannot be a platform for learning anymore than an encyclopedia can be the base of learning and instruction. This does not mean you cannot learn something from encyclopedias or Wikipedia, but it is not a platform for teaching.

The fundamental unit of learning is an active transaction such as a question and answer.

If you think about how children learn once they have language, it begins with the child asking questions. “Daddy, what are stars?” “Mama, why do I have to eat my peas?” A child’s questions are the basic units of much verbal learning.

I think you could build a learning infrastructure with questions and answers. We can see models of this idea with “help” sections in software. These are still crude structures that need refinement, better navigation tools and better linking mechanisms, but this seems like a more appropriate infrastructure for learning.

Even if a “question and answer” structure is the right foundation for a learning infrastructure, there are still many problems to address in building such a structure. The biggest challenge is how to you provide answers to all the different levels of learners. Obviously, the question, “why is it light in the day time and not at night?” gets answered differently to a five-year old than a school-age child or a high school science student, yet the question can take the same form. A well-designed learning structure will need to adapt quickly to the level of interest and knowledge of the person seeking the knowledge. There will also need to be ways to put questions in context in order to provide meaningful answers.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Axel Brun’s Pedagogy 2.0

One of the chapters in Axel Brun’s latest book, Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life and Beyond (2008), is about how learning and education need to be changed in order to prepare people to participate effectively in the Web 2.0 world. He suggests that that learners need to develop five capacities—creativity, collaborative, critical, combinatory, and communicative. As I noted in my own recent recommendations about topics for my upcoming course for developing family life educators, there are some overlaps in my topics and his.

Communication. One of my topics was “writing for the web” which is similar to his communication, but I can see that my focus has been on text and words. Clearly, this could be broadened to include a broader range of communication tools that would include visual, audio and video tools. Effective communication seems like a core capacity that students must learn.

Collaboration. Developing the capacity to work with other people in teams is another topic that was included on both Brun’s and my list. Here the skills and needs are for people to develop both the ability to lead people as well as to work effectively as team members. There is an important body of literature, particularly in training social service providers to deliver services to children with disabilities, that has much to suggest about what skills to teach in this area and how to develop these skills. Additionally, there is an emerging body of work related to online communities (See Leadership at a Distance) that is identifying some of the unique challenges of working together online.

Creative. I did not specifically identify “creativity” as a topic in the course I was developing. In many ways, graduate education in general it focused on developing students’ ability to be creative scientists and practitioners, but I have rarely seen “creativity” included in a course syllabus. However, in my course and in many other courses, students were expected to produce their own projects and activities. Also, at least in part, I was encouraging them to read the scientific literature to identify places in which they could identify topics or opportunities to develop educational materials.

Critical thinking skills. In my particular course, I focus the development of critical thinking on how to analyze the research literature on children, youth and families in order to extract information that can be useful to help families function more effectively. I also encourage review existing family life materials to identify the strengths and weaknesses of these materials. My “Framework for Family Life Education” article in 1994 was created to provide guidelines for thinking critically about family life education materials. Another key part of the course I am designing is a process in which the students provide each other with feedback. This peer feedback effort is also designed to help students develop critical thinking about each other’s work.

Combinatory. Here I think Brun’s is thinking about mashups and other uniquely web-based activities in which people are putting various materials together in new ways. More broadly in education these are the skills of “integration and synthesis,” that is, linking ideas, text, sounds, pictures, and so forth together in new ways to create new materials. It has occurred to me lately that this is a skill that I know less about how to teach. I can design projects for students that require this skill, but I am less sure how to engage them in the rudimentary tasks that will help them develop this skill.

In my course, I am going to make these five capacities more explicit to the students as a way to help them organize and focus their learning of each of these elements.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pedagogy 2.0

“The challenge is to enable self-direction, knowledge building, and learner control by offering flexible options for students to engage in learning that is authentic and relevant to their needs and to those of the networked society while still providing necessary structure and scaffolding” (McLoughin and Lee, 2008, Innovate, p. 2).

This is a good description of the goal of using Web 2.0 tools to teach. In this article the authors go on to define “pedagogy 2.0” as consisting of six features:

  • Content: Microunits that augment thinking and cognition by offering diverse perspectives and representations to learners and learner-generated resources that accrue from students creating, sharing, and revising ideas;
  • Curriculum: Syllabi that are not fixed but dynamic, open to negotiation and learner input, consisting of bite-sized modules that are interdisciplinary in focus and that blend formal and informal learning;
  • Communication: Open, peer-to-peer, multifaceted communication using multiple media types to achieve relevance and clarity;
  • Process: Situated, reflective, integrated thinking processes that are iterative, dynamic, and performance and inquiry based;
  • Resources: Multiple informal and formal sources that are rich in media and global in reach;
  • Scaffolds: Support for students from a network of peers, teachers, experts, and communities; and
  • Learning tasks: Authentic, personalized, learner-driven and learner-designed, experiential tasks that enable learners to create content.

All of these features deserve much more specification and analysis. These topics are at the heart of their ideas.

I find myself asking these questions about the definitions they offer:

1. How small or large is a “microunit” or a “bite-sized module”? Does size matter and if so, how?

2. Content seems to be defined as student-generated, teacher generated and community generated. Is there an overall organizational structure for managing this? How is “community” defined?

3. If the curriculum is “open to negotiation and learner input” how is this accomplished? Can you show me an open syllabus and then show me what it looks like throughout the course?

4. In several places it is suggested that “communication use multiple media types,” why does this matter? In what ways does the modality of communication—text, audio, video enrich or enhance communication?

5. Process is defined as “Situated, reflective, integrated thinking processes that are iterative, dynamic and performance and inquiry based.” Unpack this sentence for me. There are at least seven key words here. What do they each mean? All these ideas seem important and powerful by themselves, how do teachers conduct learning in this way?

6. You suggest that resources be global in reach. Hasn’t science been global in many instances already?

7. “Scaffolding” is a particularly important idea in teaching. You suggest that learning be supported by peer, teacher, expert and community members. I want to see the structures to support this.

8. Learning tasks are defined as “authentic, personalized, learner-driven and learner-designed, experiential tasks that enable learners to create content.” Another powerful set of ideas all packed together. What do these look like? How do you create these?

To advance the development of online teaching and learning we need to develop specific ideas about how to engage in these new forms of instruction.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Framework for Online Family LIfe Education

About 15 years ago I wrote a paper describing a framework for effective family life education. The focus of this work was developing effective print and F2F workshops. In the paper I described ways to work from content through teaching strategies to community implementation and finally evaluation.

As I reflect today on this work, most of it still seems relevant and important for new practitioners who are interested in teaching parents and families about issues related to relationships, parenting and so forth.

However, as I think about the online versions of family life education, particularly in view of the Web 2.0 tools, there are some important additional skills and knowledge that need to be added. In a separate post I have described the basic software tools and skills, in this message I want to describe the skills and knowledge that need to go with the software tools.

Online Family Life Education Skills and knowledge

Writing for online reading. Although good writing is good writing, writing for the online reading is somewhat different. It is like news writing in that the lead sentence is critical to capturing the reader’s attention, but effective online writing includes shorter sentences, paragraphs, more headings and so forth.

Learning 2.0 design. None of us knows exactly what we mean by “learning 2.0, “ but fundamentally it is about interactive and participatory design. My own suggestion is that we create microlearning activities such as questions and answers, problems to solve, surveys that invite opinions, short quizzes that test knowledge and so forth.

Social network design. If the first killer app was email, then the second killer app was social networking websites (eg., myspace, facebook , etc.) In both cases the common denominator was “social interaction.” This interest in social interaction provides a platform for family life educators to create social participatory activities around issues of family life. I think we need to pose interesting questions and describe interesting examples that invite comment and discussion. Also, we need to have people who have skills at encouraging interaction and discussion. We need to find ways for people to share their experiences, insights and challenges.

Strategic learning design. Most of what we will do in creating learning 2.0 and social network opportunities will be wrong and won’t work. The only way to improve this work is to create feedback loops by monitoring what engages people and improving our designs over time. Failing to learn how to get feedback and learn as we create educational materials would be a big mistake.

Collaborative design. Effective educational design in a learning 2.0 world requires that we are skilled in working with others to create the educational materials and the learning environment. It requires us to be collaborative designers and instructors. Collaboration is hard and often it is a slow process of persuading people to move in a common direction. Yet when it works it is powerful The most obvious example is Wikipedia. Here is great collaborative design. What would collaborative design in family life education look like? How do we create opportunities for contributions and conversation?

Open Educational Design. Every educators dream is to have a library of resources that can be drawn on to create new instructional products, courses, etc. There are many attempts at this work and it is important to continue to work on this effort, but we don’t yet have any particularly useful models. There are several open resource repositories and there are attempts at creating wiki educational institutions based on the Wikipedia model, but instruction is not the same as a textbook or an encyclopedia. No matter how badly we are doing in regards to open educational design, this is an important area to understand and for family life educators to develop new models.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Connexions-- An Open Educational Repository

There are many challenges in developing open educational repositories. I continue to follow the evolution of various repositories so here is an update on Connexions.

This repository has many of the same tools and structure that are available in other repositories. Teachers can search by subject, author, language, popularity and/or specific words. A short summary of the content in the teaching module provides you with the basic ideas. Obviously, these vary in quality, but this provides the teacher with a quick way to assess whether the topic is relevant to your search.

A key concept in Connexions is the idea of "collections" which they define as akin to a "course." This is an important idea because they are trying to help instructors to think about ways to group modules together in various configurations or "collections" to make a course. Since my interest is in "families" I searched for a collection that includes this term and found a literacy course that is fostering new approaches to teaching literacy that is based in the Trinidad and Tobago.

The collection consists of four brief web-based text summaries of information about language and reading development with a particular emphasis on Trinidad and Tobago. This material is much like what one would find in a typical online course. These materials can be downloaded and tagged and used in a variety of ways. Likewise, there are links to the author and the author's open course at the University of Trinidad and Tobago. Inside a course module there are also links to print materials, web materials and other resources. In some cases these are open access and in other cases a person would need access to a library or bookstore.

Another example is a collection is a set of modules on "communications skills.

In this case the author provides a very brief sentence about the content and each module is a link to a pdf document that resides on another webpage that appears to be the author's course. The material seems to be open access and conform to the agreement of the Connexions repository, but this is less helpful to mixing and matching materials across collections.

One of the major assertions of open education advocates, particularly those who recommend the development of repositories is the idea that students and instructors can assemble their own various collections and/or course materials without starting from scratch. The challenge that remains is that the formats for these contributions by instructors have little or no common structure so it is unlikely that a very coherent "collection" can be assembled.

I also remain skeptical about the size of the content. The creators of Connexions asserts that they are inviting teachers to create modules that are non-linear. They write:
"Most textbooks are a mass of information in linear format: one topic follows after another. However, our brains are not linear - we learn by making connections between new concepts and things we already know. Connexions mimics this by breaking down content into smaller chunks, called modules, that can be linked together and arranged in different ways. This lets students see the relationships both within and between topics and helps demonstrate that knowledge is naturally interconnected, not isolated into separate classes or books."
This is the right spirit, but I suspect that in order to create truly flexible teaching materials we are going to have to break down the units of instruction even smaller than modules-- something like concepts or "main ideas." Creating a common structure for this is even more problematic and creating the tools to assemble these "units" into larger educational materials is also a big challenge. But this still seems like the right direction. Although "learning objects" have been abandoned in many of our discussions, we still need to explore this idea.

See my earlier discussions of learning objects.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Open Scholarship and Education

Librarians and other scholars who are interested in the impact of scientific research have been exploring the degree to which scientific papers published in open access journals have an impact on the field.

The OpenCit project tracks and synthesizes this literature. Overall, they report,
"Recent studies have begun to show that open access increases impact. More studies and more substantial investigations are needed to confirm the effect, although a simple example demonstrates the effect."
For more details on this issue see this summary of the ongoing research studies that are exploring the impact of open access scholarship on scientific impact.

Peter Suber has written a thoughtful summary of the state of open access publishing in science concluding:
"While OA [open access] is demonstrably superior for impact, conventional publication is superior for prestige, at least during the current transition period. But there needn’t be a trade-off. We can combine OA and prestige in the same ways in which we combine OA and peer review: a growing number of high-prestige peer-reviewed journals are already OA, and most of the rest already allow their authors to deposit their peer-reviewed manuscript in an OA repository."
Nevertheless, the big challenge in opening science is not just opening the "scientific results" to the larger world, but opening up the laboratories and studies themselves. As I have noted in the ongoing debate about "the effect of vaccines on autism" there are powerful opportunities for scientists to contribute to the discussion, but in order to participate effectively we are going to have to move from an expert mode to a participatory mode.

Web 2.0 Tools for Educators

In the fall I will be teaching a course to graduate students on developing programs for children, youth and families. I first taught this course 10 years ago and the emphasis was on designing effective workshops, newsletters and factsheets. It was dominated by print and face-to-face teaching activities. In more recent years it has included more ideas about using information technology, but this has always been treated as "one more delivery" option.

This fall I have decided to make make the whole course focused on Web 2.o tools as the basis for delivery and not emphasize any of the face-to-face or print types of tools. So I have been trying to figure out what Web 2.0 tools to include. This course is for graduate students who are mostly in the behavioral sciences-- family studies, human development, psychology, social work, educational psychology, and so forth. I realize that I have no idea if they use Web 2.0 tools so the first day of the course I will do a short needs assessment to see if they are familiar with these tools. I also plan to devote two class sessions to making sure that they can do basic activities. So here is the basic list:

Tools for Finding, Storing and Organizing Scientific Research
  • Research abstract databases, e.g., PsychInfo, ERIC. --- this is a basic tool for finding the published scientific literature on topics that would be relevant to the content of programs. Students will not only learn to effectively search these databases, but to set up notifications on keywords, find electronic copies of the articles in journals and download the references into bibliographic tools such as RefWorks and Endnotes.
  • Bibliographic tools, e.g., Endnotes, RefWorks.-- Gone are the days of notecards to keeping track of references. These tools provide an easy way for scholars to keep track of key references and build a knowledge base of the current scientific literature. Students will learn how to share references so that work teams can share information and resources.
Tools for Finding, Storing and Organizing Web-based Material
  • Aggregators of Information on the Web, e.g., Google Reader, etc.--- This is a basic tool for assembling information from a variety of blogs, wiki, websites, news, etc. These tools are designed so that the student can subscribe to various information feeds, tag material, organize it in folders, etc. I think it is particularly important to learn how to create standing web search strategies that allow a person to continually track information published on the Web.
  • Tagging tools, e.g., Strategies for organizing information is essential to keeping track of ALL the information that is available. There are particular tools to create tags, comments, etc., but it is also essential to be able to work collaboratively with others to share information through tagging.
Tools for Creating Web-based Content
  • Content-creations tools, e.g., blogs, websites, wikis, etc.-- There are lots of tools for creating content. My focus will be primarily on the use of blogs and wikis since these are among the simplest tools. My emphasis will be on developing new blogs and wikis, commenting on other's, creating links, and so forth. Website development tools such Frontpage and Dreamweaver are two complicated to include in this course, but students will understand the basics of these tools as well.
Tools for Teaching
  • Learning Management Systems, e.g., Moodle, WebCT, Blackboard, Sakai, etc.-- These learning management systems (LMS) are a current necessary evil even though they are very limited and are generally awkward systems that model the "lecture-multiple choice test" instructional design. Lots of good teachers have learned how to use these tools to foster student engagement, discussion and collaboration, but there are still some big limits with some of these tools.
Tools I have left off the list

There are many tools I have not included on the list that I will save for the last class in which I will talk about "future" tools. This is clearly a misnomer because these are today's tools, but there is too much to cover in one course. Here is my working list of future tools--