#intro2opened – College can make you better, if you let it

Everybody has an opinion on college/higher ed, and mine is that it is what you make it, if you are lucky to receive higher education at all. As a young adult with generations of graduate degrees in my family, it was never question of whether or not I was going to go to college, more college, and even more college. As a millennial from a suburban city full of entitled millennials, I constantly found myself defending my decision. After accepting the rhetoric provided to me on the importance on an education and never questioning it, I didn’t know what to say when people told me that college doesn’t make you a better person. I listened to my friends who are aspiring musicians and waitresses explain to me that going to college made me a sellout. The skills that they have you can’t learn in a classroom and the only way to find yourself is by backpacking through southeast Asia and taking pictures with elephants. I watched them share articles entitled ‘don’t go to college, seriously don’t do it,” and comment on the fact that they were too busy discovering themselves to conform to a societal mold.

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I’m here to say that I found myself in college, by working hard and accomplishing difficult goals. I have travelled, lived in war torn cities, and contemplated the fulfillment I would receive from devoting my full energies to music making. There is nothing that has helped me discover and grow more as a human being as my college education, particularly my time in graduate school. College has provided me with the skills, relationships, and knowledge to contribute meaningfully to society. College has allowed me to follow a career trajectory that is both overwhelmingly challenging, and personally fulfilling. It is true, it is not necessarily all learned within the walls of a classroom or a desperate all-night frantic paper writing session. Rather, it is the lessons that we learn from those experiences that afford us the capabilities to reside professionally in a bureaucratic society and be respected agents of change.

Of course, college doesn’t inherently make us better, happier people. You can be a hard working productive member of society without a college degree, and you can have a college degree but be harmful to yourself and your community. Partying through 4 years of your early adulthood and doing the bare minimum to get a C- doesn’t do you or society any favors. However, if we take the skills learned in college seriously, and put forth the effort to apply them in a meaningful context, our careers have the capacity to be stable, fulfilling, and bring good to the world that we live in. It’s true, my years of financial dependency upon my parents and sitting in a classroom don’t make an inherently better person, but it’s what I take from those years and do in the future that matters.


Incentives and barriers to OER adoption: A qualitative analysis of faculty perceptions

Let me take an important second here to express my gratitude for my department. There are a few of us in the program who are interested in open education, and in OER specifically. After the proposal by a department alumnus who now teaches at the university, and the approval of our wonderful department chair, a class devoted entirely on OER research was added to our course selection! This meant a whole semester of structured and scheduled research culminating in an article submission. If this is not cool, I don’t know what is (okay, I know my definition of cool is a little bit skewed, but I stick by it).

I was put in contact with Jeff Seaman of the Babson Group, who conducted the 2014 study Opening the Curriculum. They had free response data that had not been analyzed and were generous enough to allow me to do so! To read all about the study and results, check out the article in the most recent issue of open praxis.

Forcing Students to be Free?

After the Indie Ed-Tech gathering, BYU has tried to make sense of the personal API goals and combine them with pre-existing initiatives that have been floating around. We’ve been trying to design personal learning environment applications, dynamic messaging systems, and discussing how the personal API fits into all of this. An important question arose from a design critique: are we solving a problem students have or a problem we think they have? The topic of discussion moved from all the great tools we can provide students with to what is ever going to compel students to use a tool like thisHow is this not just another LMS to students? Another place the university requires me to login. When I woke up this morning I scrolled through my twitter feed. Optimism, plans, buzzwords, articles, and many conversations about what students need. Discussions on how we are going to free our students of institutional control and finally allow them to be the kind of student they want to be.

What real needs is this application going to meet? Luckily Tarah & I are also students, and have heard a lot of discussion about student needs, as well as share our own needs.

  1. Aggregated notifications. I can’t even aggregate my notifications within one LMS! I am personally expected to login to multiple LMS tools, a department calendar, an institutional calendar, course messaging and announcement systems, university messaging systems, and I’m sure other locations. This doesn’t even include the emails I am constantly refreshing to ensure something new didn’t come up. If there was a way to streamline and aggregate all of this, this could fill a need that students have.
  2. Portfolios. In many capstone courses, students are required to submit work samples from each of their courses in the program. I remember gathering (and improving) French papers from many different semesters and years. I feel comfortable assuming that not every student plugs their laptop into an external hard drive for backups on a weekly basis as I do. I recently had a roommate who stumbled across this problem in her public relations program. It was time to show work samples, and because of a new laptop, she was out of luck when it came time to produce papers she never thought she would use again. This functionality could also provide work samples for job search, and has the potential to create personalized, data-driven resumes and CVs.
  3. Course communication. Although a lot of this happens via phone number exchanges and friendships, there are many students within courses who do not have the same student relationships. A dynamic, archived messaging system could provide students with the opportunity to see what conversations students are having, pose questions, schedule study groups that welcome all students in the course, etc. It can even allow for students to provide instructors with feedback in some cases. Providing a forum for these types of conversations beyond the contrived chat feature of the LMS could expand student relationships and course communications.

These are needs that students have but the reality is that at every institution is a bright, innovative group of individuals who find ways to solve these problems. Any tool created would need to meet these needs to such a level of convenience and usability that they would move away from their existing routine.

The issue I saw with all of this is that we have discussions of what is good for the student, and what the student needs without ever actually asking the average student. Maybe students don’t want to control their data or personalize their learning. Maybe they’re just hear for the certificate, to get in and out as easily as possible. I would hope not, but I think as we continue to design, test, and roll out applications the student needs to be at the center of these conversations.


10 Years of Twitter & Connected Learning

Six years ago I sat around a table discussing the eminence of Bob Dylan with another esteemed musician, Josh Ritter. We talked music, poetry, and listened to a soundcheck. Josh asked us what our favorites were and I sat on the stage of a historic Vancouver ballroom listening to the most surreal performance of Good Man I could never have imagined.


All of this is thanks to Twitter. A few weeks before the concert I remember mindlessly tweeting about how I would have loved to go, but the show was 19+. After a few tweets back and forth, Josh’s tour coordinator tweeted back at a conversation I was having and arranged this meeting, something that never would have happened had it not been for Twitter. While the network does not exist solely to enable sixteen year olds to meet their favorite artists, this is my go to story when I have to explain to others why Twitter is the most impactful social network I have ever participated in.

This story is simply an example of the power that this network enables. The transfer of this impact on my learning has been equally significant in my life. Many of the major insights I have had, articles I have been pointed to and conversations I have been privy to, have been because of Twitter. Although it is a huge network of fourteen year olds subtweeting about how angry they are at their best friends and boyfriends (I would know I was one), and companies shamelessly promoting themselves to the point of belligerence, there is something unique that happens on Twitter: learning.

Scholars, students, and all those in between are provided with a forum to share, follow, learn, discuss, and grow. Boundaries crumble as experts in a field tweet at high school students and college undergraduates eager to learn more. Twitter breaks down traditional power structures and facilitates equity in learning. Lively discussions occur in succinct statements of 140 characters or less. Blogs are shared, conference backchannels thrive, and communities grow and flourish.

This blog post is an appreciative nod to a network that had taught, humbled, and connected me. I don’t know that I would have realized my love for ed-tech had it not been for Twitter, and I hope to continue to grow my understanding and love for this domain through my favorite connected learning environment. Here’s to a great ten years, and what I hope to be an equally impactful ten more.

#IndieEdTech Personal APIs & The Current State of Ed-Tech

This is part of a series of posts that reflect upon the Indie Ed-Tech Data Jam gathering.

After the keynote from Audrey, we got to hear from the equally compelling Kin Lane (API Evangelist). Kin’s site was one of the first I went to when I wanted to learn more about APIs, and he did not disappoint. Even better: hearing him lay it all out in person. Kin’s site has the most comprehensive and cohesive documentations I have ever seen and I would highly recommend taking a look and imaging what APIs can do for you whether you are an educator or have influence and interest in different spheres. If you are new to APIs, Kin has a great page entitled API 101.

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#IndieEdTech Keynote Reflections

I spent the past weekend at Davidson College at the IndieEdTech Data Jam hosted by the Digital Learning Research and Design (DLRD) initiative at their center for teaching and learning. After doing research in the Office of the CIO at BYU, a fellow graduate student and I were invited to be student representatives of our institution as we discussed indie ed-tech and worked through what a personal API can do for college students. This is part of a series of posts that reflect upon the gathering.


Audrey Watters gave an insightful keynote entitled: ‘I Love My Label’: Resisting the Pre-Packaged Sound (Student) in Ed-Tech. I would highly recommend reading her talk. It was refreshing, insightful, and Audrey is eloquent to a degree few of us can only dream. I had a few takeaways from her address that really resonated with me, and not just because Wilco is my everything.

What do we know about autonomy & learning?

In an effort to understand what has been written on autonomy in education and why it’s important, Tarah Kerr and I scoured the web for articles on the subject. Although this is not an all-encompassing meta-analysis or literature review, we started to notice some themes and gleaned some valuable information on autonomy.

An autonomous learner by definition is “one who solves problems or develops new ideas through a combination of divergent and convergent thinking and functions with minimal external guidance in selected areas of endeavour” (Betts & Knapp, 1981, p. 27). The idea of autonomy has been highly studied within the context of foreign language learning and learner motivation. Much of the research on autonomy unrelated to language learning is conducted within the self-determination theory framework, a theory which focuses on human motivation, emotion, and development and the factors that affect these processes in people (Niemiec & Ryan, 2009). A review of literature found that across multiple studies, autonomy-supportive settings increased performance, satisfaction, and engagement (Burton, Lydon, D’Alessandro, & Koestner, 2006; Miserandino, 1996; Pink, 2009). Students who acted in accordance with autonomous motivators experienced positive psychological and behavioral outcomes, such as improved psychological well-being, goal progress, and school performance (Burton et al., 2006). These studies also found that a lack of autonomy can cause a learner to feel angry, anxious, and bored (Miserandino, 1996).  Autonomous learning draws upon intrinsic motivation from the learners and focuses on autonomous types of extrinsic motivation which are conducive to student engagement and learning (Niemiec & Ryan, 2009). Although autonomy can greatly influence a learner, research has shown that autonomy in isolation is not enough to promote improvement in learners’ psychological and behavioral outcomes. Competence, purpose, and autonomy must all be perceived as being fulfilled for learners to experience positive effects (Miserandino, 1996; Pink, 2009). Autonomous learning does not seek to disrupt the traditional classroom model or the dependence relationship between the student and teacher, but rather seeks to provide instructor support of student interest pursuit and identity construction (Kant, 1996).

What has autonomy done for me?

I recently had a conversation with Phil Windley and others at BYU where we discussed the importance of autonomy. Why do we even care about it and how can it help students learn? Having always been a major proponent of autonomous learning, I got on my soap box and shared the deep impact that autonomy has had on my life.  Phil challenged me to put into words my testimonial of autonomous learning. All the content in this blog post, and all that I am as a learner, teacher, and individual is because of two very special individuals. I am forever indebted to Bryan Jackson and Quirien Mulder ten Kate for their dedication to their students, for their efforts that enable the T.A.L.O.N.S. program, and for our now shared loved of lifelong learning.

I believe that every learner benefits most from forging their own path to self-actualization. I was empowered to find my path through the George Betts autonomous learner model. At 13 years old, I entered a high school program that was centered around this model, and it has become increasingly difficult to separate any of my personal challenges or triumphs from this experience. There were days of direct instruction, and content that had to be delivered as mandated by the province, and all of those instances of learning were quite ordinary. There were times, however, when I knew I was working and something significant was happening. I was engaging, learning, and performing in a way that I thought was beyond my capacity and beyond the boundaries of a curriculum. I remember almost audibly asking myself how can this be learning if I’m having so much fun? I don’t know when I wrote learning off as an unenjoyable activity, but between self-created science experiments and semester length studies of Bob Dylan as an eminent individual and literary figure, I saw a change in how I interacted with my learning. It began to seep into my personal time in a way that I welcomed with open arms. The stakes for my learning skyrocketed. It was not longer an activity driven by compliance; it was an activity driven by engagement. Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, observes this phenomenon and states that it is only through engagement that we can achieve mastery. I found myself enthralled with not only the content I was learning, but with the learning itself. I observed that all my peers were discovering themselves in a similar manner. There were those who threw themselves into music, political studies, environmental endeavors, and the list goes on, but for me it was always learning. I continued to pursue my areas of interest, and kept learning at the forefront of those interests. It was in class that one day that I discovered ds106radio through Bryan and began spending class time combining my interests of music, technology, and, of course, learning. I spent my class time interacting with a group of instructional technologists, and became enthralled with the fact that such a career path existed. Bryan let me play, fail, learn, and most importantly create my own curriculum. Class time wasn’t something that was focused on a government regulated outcome. Class time became about pursuing interests and fitting the outcomes into those interests so they could be learned through engaged mastery. It was through this autonomous program that my lifelong love of learning was kindled, and my path to self actualization was forged. Although I can’t pinpoint the first time I learned “autonomously,” and I hope there never is a last time, I can (try to) put into words what learning autonomously has done for me. Autonomy has allowed me to pursue personal goals through classroom-based learning. It has helped me see assignments and activities through a personal lens. It has encouraged exploration and opened me up to meaningful learning experiences and self-actualization. It is because of autonomy that I am an instructional technologist, and it is because of autonomy that I will continue a lifelong pursuit of learning.  

Personal Learning Environments

In an effort to build a personal learning environment (PLE) in the office of the CIO at Brigham Young University, we have been researching literature on personal learning environments. There is a lot out there, but it’s all theory. The more we research, the more we realize that building such an environment is no small undertaking. All of this research is a combined effort of myself, Tarah Kerr, and those in the office of the CIO at BYU.