Shouting Into the Internet Abyss

commentsComments. We don't have them turned on here at Serendipity35 any more. We were pounded over and over with spammers and so we turned them off more than a year ago

I thought about that as a read this piece on The New Yorker site that suggests that if the Internet were to receive its own Ten Commandments, one of them would be “Thou Shalt Not Read the Comments.”

The author says that there are "few online experiences more dispiriting, more arduously futile, than the downward scroll into the netherworld of half-assed provocations and inanities that exists beneath the typical opinion piece or YouTube video."

I miss our comments. The good ones, not the spam. I still think that part of the reason anyone should blog is to get some feedback from the world. But because this blog has such a long tail of posts, we became a target to spammers. last month we had 1140635 hits and that makes us a place a spammer want to put his link to Viagra and Beats headphones and Gucci bags and all the other crap that got sent our way. I have news for spammers and marketers: Tim and I post our own legitimate ads on this blog's sidebar to Amazon and such and they don't generate enough revenue after a few months to even get the two of a burger and beer at McGovern's.

I suppose I am shouting into the abyss with these posts if I can't even hear an echo of a comment.

That makes me think of when I was an undergrad at Rutgers and did some time at the college radio station, WRSU. We were just moving the station from AM to FM then and I got my FCC license and learned how to run the board and all that. I have always loved radio. But as a rookie, you got the unenviable time slots early in the morning or late at night and you wondered if anyone was out there listening.

LampoonAt the time we were running The National Lampoon Radio Hour which was a very funny series of sketches. It was Saturday Night Live on the radio (with some of the same people, like Bill Murray). It was created, produced and written by staff from National Lampoon magazine and it lasted for a little over a year back in 1973 and 1974.

It originally was a radio HOUR but at some point while I was on the air, they cut it to 30 minutes, supposedly because they couldn't afford or didn't have the time to put together enough material required for a one-hour show.

That first half-hour show made mention at the end that some wimpy radio stations were not going to play the second half of the hour because that was the part with all the dirty stuff. Of course, the show ended there. And the station got calls from angry listeners that were mad because they couldn't hear the second half and because the college station was too wimpy to play it. I was unable to convince these callers that there was no second half and that it was just another gag. It was one of the rare times I knew someone was out there listening.


degreesNew even smaller than mini- online certification programs are changing the pathways to entering some industries. At the annual Google I/O conference this year, Udacity unveiled its new Android Developer Nanodegree program. It was created in cooperation with Google as a program to provide software developers with the skills they need to build Android applications. It also provides a credential to prove to potential employers that they have those skills.

Udacity also said that it will refund half the tuition ($200 per month) for students completing the program in 12 months. This was the sixth nanodegree for Udacity. (Udacity has trademarked the term "nanodegree.") But educators are more interested in how nanodegrees might further disrupt higher education.

The idea is not brand new. MOOCs were one early indicator, and institution-agnostic microcredentials from providers like Coursera have been around for awhile (including partnerships with Google that were termed "microdegrees." And certificates  have been around as traditional college offering for a lot longer time.

I teach at a university that offers certificates and two of my courses are offered as part of certificates. The term"university extension" has been used for programs for over a century old.

Udacitiy's nanodegree curriculum is part of the change of plans co-founder Sebastian Thrun had when he exited MOOCs for higher education. and shifted focus to corporate training. The success of these nano/microdegrees may depend on there being a market with employers who are open to hiring certifiably-skilled people without four-year degrees. This contrasts with certificates which are mainly targetted at people who had already have a degree and want or need continuing education or professional certification.  

Course Correction


As I rehearsed a presentation on rubrics this past weekend for the Faculty Institute this week at NJIT, I reminded myself to stress formative assessment.

Every teacher and student is aware of summative assessment - those things (especially tests) that come at the end of learning experiences. Summative assessments are used to evaluate student learning, skill acquisition, and academic achievement at the conclusion of a some defined instructional period. Typically we use them at the end of a project, unit, course, semester, program, or school year. Formative assessment, including diagnostic testing, is a wide range of formal and informal assessment procedures. Teachers conduct these during the learning process in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student achievement.

These formative checks are often what lead to "course corrections." The term might be one more often used in navigation, but it applies nicely to teaching. We set out both in a course and on some course of study. We monitor the conditions along the way and then make corrections. If done well, we still arive at the same destination, but in less time or with less wasted effort or with less stormy weather along the way.

Rubrics are a good example of a tool that can be used as a formative or summative assessment, though it is more likely to be used as the latter. That's unfortunate as I find that formative assessments are more important to learning than summative. A lot of research bears this out and shows formative assessment as a viable means to help improve overall student achievement.

In teaching writing, it becomes obvious that the feedback students receive during the writing process is much more useful than comments on a final paper that will no longer be revised. Frequent formative measures of student progress are essential, how the information obtained from these measures is used is even more critical for boosting student achievement.

Most of the research suggests that key elements of the formative assessment process include a) sharing clearly stated learning goals with the students b) provision of specific, actionable feedback so that [teachers/students] can adjust learning strategies.

A more recent trend is to have greater student involvement in that formative assessment process (for example, creating the rubric) and make them take greater ownership of their learning by tracking progress toward their goals, and by self and peer review of their work.

How Engaged Are You?

studentsStudent engagement has been a buzzworthy phrase for a few years. I'll agree for now with one definition that it occurs when "students make a psychological investment in learning. They try hard to learn what school offers. They take pride not simply in earning the formal indicators of success (grades), but in understanding the material and incorporating or internalizing it in their lives." I regularly see articles about how to engage students and many lists of resources, especiallly for K-12 teachers.

Most research shows that "Student learning, persistence, and attainment in college are strongly associated with student engagement. The more actively engaged students are—with college faculty and staff, with other students, with the subject matter they are studying—the more likely they are to persist in their college studies and to achieve at higher levels."

But not everyone is a student and we all don't have the same goals. Employee engagement is a property of the relationship between an organization and its employees. An "engaged employee" is one who is fully absorbed by and enthusiastic about their work and so takes positive action to further the organization's reputation and interests.

Both of these definitions describe someone I would like to have in my classroom or as a colleague at work.

The folks at Canvas posted four descriptions of online learner types based on engagement that are especially appropriate to the participants in a MOOC, online course but also those in a face-to-face course that is supplemented with online materials. Which best describes the students you teach? (Hopefully, these are not the students in your physical classroom.)

An observer =  I just want to check the course out. Count on me to “surf” the content, discussions, and videos but don’t count on me to take any form of assessment.

A drop-in = I am looking to learn more about a specific topic within the course. Once I find it and learn it I will consider myself done with the course.

A passive participant = I plan on completing the course but on my own schedule and without having to engage with other students or assignments.

An active participant = Bring it on. If its in the course, I plan on doing it.

Edcamp Foundation Receives $2 Million Grant from the Gates Foundation

edcamp logoIt was announced this month that the Edcamp Foundation (a non-profit) has received a $2 million grant from the Gates Foundation. Edcamps are “unconferences” that bring together teachers, tech experts, entrepreneurs, and others in education.  They have been going on since 2010 and have become a viral movement. In 2014, 225 Edcamps were held.

The Gates money comes from that foundation's interest to bring focus back to the teachers. Part of that is public relations as the Gates Foundation gathered a reputation for basing teacher the past few years. Among k-12 teachers, their support of the Common Core Standards was also not popular.

The bulk of the money goes to programs with some of it helping establish a better organizational structure nationally. There are planned five regional summits for organizers. California, Texas, Florida, and Massachusetts have the most EdCamps, and will likely be four of the five locations for these summits. Some will go to further fund more Edcamp-in-a-Box kits each year. These provides the essentials for hosting an Edcamp. Boxes typically take about $300 for the Foundation to put together, so some of the Gates money will go towards pumping out more of these kits. The money will also be used for “discovery grants" of $500 to $1000 grants that teachers can apply for to develop an idea that they heard about at an Edcamp.

A future plan that fits into the Gates Foundation philosophy is for better data collection on various forms of Edcamp impact in the classroom.