The Dangerous Implications and Science of “The W...

The Dangerous Implications and Science of “The War Against Boys”

You might have noticed the PragerU videos going around claiming to have proof of a coordinated “War Against Boys” in our schools today. These videos are popping up everywhere, from ads in MineCraft game videos to viral sharing on Facebook. They represent the most recent work of Christina Hoff Sommers’ decades long crusade against what she sees as the problems with liberals and feminism. The two basic points of the video (and the book it comes from) are that 1) feminists invented a problem with girls’ education in order to ignore the problems with boys’ education, and 2) feminists have convinced society to improperly socialize boys, both inside and outside of schools.

The science behind these claims is incredibly problematic, but I want to look at that after looking at the real problem. Lee Skallerup Bessette sums up the implications of boys seeing these videos well:

I followed this up with a lamentation that I couldn’t find a good article that explores her points in addition to the scientific problems together, so I thought.. why not write that article here?

My brief time as an 8th grade teacher taught me that I tend to see in students what I want to see. I noticed that every time some flashy professional development speaker came along with some idea that sounded cool to me, I suddenly started “seeing” that problem in my classes. I finally realized that I need to see students for who they are, not who I wanted them to be. Pretty basic, I know… but I am a bit thick-skulled sometimes.

So when some teachers – especially here in the South – that are already skeptical of feminism see “The War Against Boys”…. how will that affect the way they see (and teach) their classes? Then, on the other side, you show these videos to young boys, convincing them there is a conspiracy – led by women – against them? Throw that in with the “purity culture” pervasive in so many parts of society (that teaches that girls are just there to tempt boys into all kinds of bad situations)…. you have a recipe for a disaster.

Much of this is not new… I remember hearing things about wars against manhood/boyhood/etc back in school in the 80s and 90s. But we need to start seeing the connection between all of this and our current political leader’s weirdness and hatred towards women. Go look into how many political leaders from more conservative area were raised on this idea of “feminist war against men” + “women are out to tempt you to sin.”

But what exactly is the problem with the science of “The War Against Boys”? For this, I will defer mostly to this review of the book The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men by E. Anthony Rotundo ( Its a short look at the problems, which can be summed up with this excerpt:

Examined carefully, Sommers’s case does not hold up well. She persistently misrepresents scholarly debate, ignores evidence that contradicts her assertions, and directs intense scrutiny at studies she opposes while giving a free critical ride to research she supports.

This would also apply to the current videos making the social media rounds, since they are based on the same logic. Rotundo’s conclusion is an important point to consider (he does examine specific points to back up his assertions in between these two quotes it you are interested):

But Sommers’s book is a work of neither dispassionate social science nor reflective scholarship; it is a conservative polemic. Sommers focuses less on boys than on the feminists and cultural liberals against whom she has a long-standing animus. As a society, we sorely need a discussion of boyhood that is thoughtful and searching. This intemperate book is a hindrance to such conversation.

So what is meant by “long-standing animus”? This review does not give too much explanation, but we can turn to another source to discuss that. This “take down” of Sommers is long, but it goes into many of the organizations and movements she has been a part of, as well as her support for the abuse of GamerGate. I link to this not as ad-hominem or guilt by association type of attck, but as context to know why Sommers has “long-standing animus” towards liberals and feminists. This take down shows how her books and videos come from a context that is extremely politicized in nature, specifically against the many straw-man caricatures she creates of those she disagrees with:

While she may bill herself as the “Factual Feminist”, her history suggests she’s a right-wing shill who uses her platform to spread misinformation about feminism, in the hope of opposing social change.

What you end up with is a factually skewed view of complex problems in schools that simplifies those problems to “girls are getting better treatment than boys” because “liberals and feminists hate boys” being fed to children as they watch videos about their favorite video games, and then shared by their parents and teachers on Facebook… none of which are aware of the hidden political agendas behind the videos. This is exacerbated by the teachers who watch the videos and swear they see this “war” happening in their schools.

Can I comment on that last part as a former school teacher? Really? You see evidence of a war against boys all the time – but you haven’t noticed it until some slick video on Facebook convinced you to see it? Who is the head of this war? Where is all of the organization coming from? The feminists and liberals? Even when you work in a school in Texas with mostly conservative-leaning teachers?

No, you don’t see a war against boys. You see a side to take, and instead of being a neutral observer, you join your pre-determined “side” and share the video to attack the other side. Passive-aggressively, of course, because the recent version of the videos has toned down the “evil liberals and feminists” to some subtle dog whistles. What does that mean when you are the one hearing those whistles?

Look, schools have problems. Every one of them has plans to address those issues, so they know. Sometimes those problems are focused among boys, or girls. But the problem is both, not either/or. Black and white dogma like the War Against Boys is the true problem – a carefully crafted war against society, designed to divide us all and destroy one side.

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

Posted: December 19, 2017
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To Grade or Not to Grade: Does the Learner Get a S...

To Grade or Not to Grade: Does the Learner Get a Say?

Grading has been a contentious topic in some circles of education for decades now. Many outside of those circles seem to accept grading as either a good thing at best, or a necessary evil at worst, all the while never questioning if it is possible to not grade in the first place.

For me, I have found grades problematic for a long time. I used to be firmly against them, but years of teaching has changed my status from “against always” to “still not a fan, but it’s complicated.” What exactly has been complicating my views? Talking to students about grades.

I used to teach various undergrad instructional design courses at the University of Texas at Brownsville (before it merged to become UT Rio Grande Valley). We would have many online discussions about all kinds of education topics in these courses. I often found out how much I had framed my progressive / connectivist / critical lens of instructional design through things that looked good to me as a white person (as well as a male) without considering how those stances looked to people of color.

My anti-grading stance was one of these lens.

So I want to try and capture the overarching conversations and issues that were brought to my attention through these conversations with students and many others through the years.

When educators say “grades are bad,” we often offer a “conversational” approach to grading as an alternative. This typically means that instructors should have a dialogue with learners to give them feedback instead of grades, or at least let students come up with their own grade. Of course, this sounds great when you are white (or male) and you will be having this conversation with someone that probably looks a lot like you. But how does this “conversation” sound to an immigrant to this country? What about a first generation college student that is new to the whole system? What about a woman in a field that is typically dominated by men? What about a person of color at a predominately white university? Would they feel comfortable with having their success in the course rely on a conversation with someone that might not realize their own prejudices?

This is an area where we need to put our own anecdotes aside. Sure, students might be comfortable conversing with you… but what about all instructors in your department? All professors at your university? All teachers anywhere?

Sure, my white privilege makes having a conversation in place of a grade sound great… because my privilege will help me get the upper hand in that conversation more often than not.

And then, even in a situation where you have a white male student and a white male teacher, the teacher is still in the position of authority… and not everyone feels comfortable with trusting all positions of authority. Often for good reason.

We keep talking about how grading is bad because we need to learn to trust students, but how dangerous is it to replace grading with something else that requires all students to trust all teachers at all times? What does it mean to force them to trust all of us all the time?

So does any of this make grading “good” by comparison? No, it still doesn’t. As many of my students pointed out, they still recognize that tests, papers, assignments, etc have problems, bias, and inequalities. But with a multiple choice question, you know the right answer is there. With a complex rubric, you know exactly what you need to do to get a good grade. Those questions and rubrics are usually problematic, but at least the answer is there – and you just have to learn the game to get the grade.

With a “conversation” about a grade – you don’t know the rules going in. You don’t know which teachers are harboring unacknowledged racism or sexism that will skew the conversation and hold you down. At least with a graded test, if they give you a lower grade because of racism and sexism, you can point easily to that corruption and say “I chose the right answer and you still marked it wrong!” or “the rubric line says 1000 words and I had 1112 and still got points taken off!”

As many students explained to me in many different ways: even though the white dudes will have advantages and privileges with many tests and assessments, those assessments are so cut and dried that there is a clear path for everyone to achieve equality (even if it comes at a greater price for people of color than for the white students). For some, a clear – but more difficult – path to equality can be more attractive than an unclear, unknown path through potentially dangerous conversations. Of course, not all found it to be more attractive, but it is certainly attractive to some. Those students are important voices to listen to.

Then, of course, there are the students that say they are used to grades, so they prefer to have them. They will even go as far to say they don’t see the harm in grades. Not a “good” reason to me… but who am I to say that is the wrong? Research backs me up? Or does it?

Let’s face it – it is really hard to research the impact of grades themselves apart from student opinion. How do we know that we are researching the grades themselves and not the assignment that produces the grades? How do we know that we are looking at grades and not bad assessment design, or even poor teaching of the topic being assessed? Or motivation, or privilege, or tardiness, or…. any number of issues that a “grade” could reflect? The biggest problem with grades is that so many factors go into them that we have a hard time really telling if the grades are the problem or if one of many factors that produced the grade is the real problem.

So that leaves us with looking at things like “student satisfaction” and “self-reported motivation” to tell if grades are a problem or not – which is not a bad thing. But once you go down that path, you have to be careful not to look at the results the wrong way. Too many times, educators see a study and assume the results mean that we know the one solution for all learners at all times: “this study found that group work is good, so let’s make all learners do group work!” Well, the study probably found something like “test scores went up 31% when group work was utilized” or “45% of students indicated greater whatever on such and such survey when group work was utilized.” Studies show averages and statistics – not something that is true for all learners at all times. Research is helpful, but rarely answers one solution for all learners. Educators have to rely on their judgement when making decisions on grading.

Therefore, whether we as teachers choose to grade or not to grade, we are usually centering the decision to be graded on our bias for or against grading, regardless of whether individual learners want it or not.

(What I say is that we need systems that allow for learners to choose how they get graded and by whom…. something we are working on with self-mapped learning pathways (aka dual-layer, customizable modalities, and all the other terms I can’t decide on… :) ), but that is post for another day.)

To be clear, I still find grades incredibly problematic. When I read a post like “Why I Don’t Grade” by Jesse Stommel, I completely agree. I also recognize that there are complications and other sides to many of these points as well. Just as a quick example of what I mean, I want to run through the graphic from this post that has probably been shared the most – not to disagree, but to extend the conversation (probably while repeating some of what was said in this post and others out there – apologies for that):

For example, its true that grades are not good feedback. This is probably because I can’t find much evidence they were ever meant to be “feedback” per se, at least initially. It seems that grades and feedback were meant to be separate but complimentary ideas at one time. The further back in time you go, the more likely you are to see grade-books and graded papers with separate feedback columns. But as society as devalued and de-funded education, you see grades replacing feedback as a means to cope with what society is doing to education. So is that really a problem with grades, or society? I would have to honestly point more at society.

Also, I completely agree that grades make a horrible incentive. They never encouraged me to study harder or lesser. But talk about a can of worms there – try discussing what is an incentive? with a diverse group of students, and you might end up with a heated argument. Everyone seems to find incentive in different things. Its a pretty relative thing in some ways (not in others, of course). But do some students really, truly feel that grades are a positive incentive for them? You bet. Do I disagree? Yes. But if I make my stance on incentive the default one for the entire class, what does that mean about my class? Who is the center then?

For the next one, again I agree that grades are not good markers of learning. But that is because they never really were meant to be markers of learning. Again, you go back in time, there was a greater understanding that grades were a representation of a learner’s ability to apply what they learned to an assessment or paper or what have you. But not as an actual marker of actual learning. There was a greater understanding (at least in older books) that learning was difficult to measure, and a grade was only evaluating the application of learning to an assignment or test. Through the years, many have lost sight of this. Many who champion grades have lost sight of this. Many administrators and policymakers and news-makers and so on have lost sight of this. Again, not the fault of grades but society.

This reasoning also applies to how grades are not reflective of the idiosyncratic, subjective, and emotional character of learning. I completely agree, but again, that is because grades are not supposed to reflect that. They just reflect how learners can apply the idiosyncratic, subjective, and emotional aspects of learning to specific tasks, assignments, assessment, and so on. Again, much of society has just lost sight of that, there by devaluing those aspects of learning to the point of barely acknowledging them in so many corners.

And then, I agree that we see a lot of competitiveness over grades – just look at the news. This is not a good thing. But where does this competitiveness come from? Most grades are based on a scale of 0-100% for a reason: they are supposed to reflect how close an individual learner got to perfecting the graded task (a problematic statement of it’s own, of course). Grades only become competitive when we put one learner’s grades next to another and compare them. That is another societal thing, and it is one of many major issues threatening education on all fronts. I know some people actually like that kind of competition, and I try to be understanding of that mindset. But I think that we can see so many quantitative and qualitative effects of that competition currently consuming education, that we can at least say that we should at least massively dial it back. But again, that is really a societal thing more than a grade thing.

On to the last one. This point is one that gets at the common argument in support of grades: objectivity. This is another one that is a huge can of worms once you get discussing it with students, as there are so many versions of “what counts as fair.” Some see grades as a way to make assessment fair, others see the problems with grading as making that fairness impossible. Really, when it comes down to it, our bias and other factors influence most arguments for or against various definitions of fair. So, unfortunately, the best we can usually come up with is “I think this is fair because I think it is so, and I think that is unfair because I think it is so as well.” We can lean on societal definitions and social contract, but history has proven that is not always the morally best option. Few or our positions are very defensible either way if we were to argue our case before an impartial observer.

However, I think within the “fairness” argument is a way to frame grades that objectively encapsulates one argument against grades that can’t be influenced by bias or context or the whims of society. One of the reasons grades are not fair is that a grade, by itself, does not tell you anything about how the learner earned that grade. You see an 80 – does that mean it was a perfect score that had 20 points taken off for being late, or a slightly above effort turned in on time by the learner? There is no way of knowing either way just by looking at a grade by itself. Educators mix so many things into grades – punctuality, following directions, context, format, etc – that by the end, any single grade is a reflection of all kinds of things in addition to how well the learner could apply their learning to an assignment. Then, if one adds up all the assignments in one class into an “A, B, C, D, E, F” grade… and then, add up all the class grades into a GPA… you end up with a number that really tells you nothing about the exact way that grade was determined. Whether you label that as fair or not, it is still a huge issue.

Of course, one could say that this issue is easily solved if we just add the ability for every instructor to input qualitative feedback to each grade. Have the instructor tell why that grade happened, and problem solved, right? Very true, but you would then have just eliminated the need for grades for anything other than competition – and no one cares about that competition after you have graduated. They only care about GPAs as a proxy for that qualitative feedback. But if they have it….

In other words, giving the explanation for why someone got a specific grade ultimately negates the need to have the grade listed in the first place.

When one looks at all of my reasons and others’ reasons for not liking grades, so many of them can be written off by the “pro-grade side” (if that really is such a thing) as bias, taking grades out of context, historical misunderstanding, applying relativistic standards, or blaming grades for societal problems. And I still stick with my views on grades even though all of this is true, because you can’t easily separate all of that out even if attempting to “reform” or “fix” or “reclaim” grading. But at the end of all that, I still come down to the fact that a grade by itself doesn’t explain what it really means… and adding that meaning removes the need for the grade in the first place in the bigger picture of what really matters in education (because even if you like competition, you have to recognize it is not what really matters in the grand scheme of education). The main thing that we can do to best fix grades would make them obsolete, and that should say a lot.

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

Posted: December 8, 2017
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Setting Up a Learner Activity Hub Like #YogaMOOC o...

Setting Up a Learner Activity Hub Like #YogaMOOC or #OpenEdMOOC

Since a couple of people have asked about how I put together the Learner Activity Hubs for OpenEdMOOC and YogaMOOC, I thought I would put some of the specifics into a blog post for reference (and to help myself remember later how I did it if we ever do another one). Many of the basics are covered in Alan Levine’s most excellent guide to setting up a network hub, so I will only really cover the few things that I did in addition to those instructions. I also won’t cover too much on where to find options in in WordPress – hopefully you can find that easily online, or already know how to do things like add categories, edit posts, upload images, etc.

But first, I want to go over some unique considerations for our learner hubs. The method I describe here has some extra steps involved due to some of the parameters I wanted to have for the hub. You don’t have to have any or all of these parameters in mind. But what I wanted to have unique for these hubs included:

  • No wall of text. It is pretty easy to dump all course blog posts in one place and have a never ending scroll of text. But that is hard on the eyes and a little counter productive to getting people to connect. Also a bit dehumanizing to the individual posts.
  • Link back to individual websites. The wall of text also discourages people from going to individual blogs, and seeing them as unique individuals. So I wanted to have a theme that at most displayed the post titles, linking back to the source website.
  • Images or graphics to humanize each link. If at possible, I wanted pictures of people to link back to their blogs. This introduced a few unique challenges with technical limitations, but I will discuss work-arounds below.

The basic flow of the work would be that participants that want their work to go into the Hub (this is voluntary) would fill out a form to get me the details about their blog. I would get the results of that form. I would then create a Category for each person (based on the name or a pseudonym they give me), attach a featured image to that category (one that they choose), connect that category to an RSS feed from their blog, and let the magic happen. That way, when they create a post, an image of them with a link to their blog post is added to an image grid of blog posts. I love the results, but the process to get there is a little more involved than I thought it would be.

Setting Up the Hub

With all of that in mind, I selected a theme and some plugins to make those goals happen. Somewhat.  Here is what I chose:

  • FeedWordPress plugin. This is a must have for the Hub – see Alan’s instructions above.
  • Morphology Lite Theme. This one had a nice image-based front page blog grid, although you can’t read the titles until you mouse over each image individually. That part is a bit annoying – I would like to find one that has the image with the text imposed over it. But this theme does the basics of what I need it to do well.
  • Category Featured Images Extended plugin. This allows you to associate an image with a category – this is part of the process for creating the grid front page that I will get into below. FeedWordPress can’t pull in featured images, and most people don’t use them anyways, so this is a way to get the images that the front page of Morphology Lite needs added automatically
  • Ajax Search Lite plugin – as the YogaMOOC Learner hub grew, it became hard to find certain people’s work. This plugin seems to work well as an intuitive search. See the results here. However, I couldn’t get it to work on OpenEdMOOC, which had more plugins than YogaMOOC. It may not play well with some plugins.

The first step was to install Morphology Lite and set up my installation like their demo was set-up – they have some handy instructions here. For YogaMOOC, the blog hub is the front page. For OpenEdMOOC, the blog hub is not the front page. It can be set up either way. One thing to note: there is a setting to tell how many images are on the front page (found in Appearance > Customize > Blog Options > “Image Post Template Count”), and it is initially set pretty low. If you are expecting a lot of posts, you might want to set it high (I currently have YogaMOOC set to 600 with no problems).

Next is to set up the FeedWordPress plugin. I pretty much follow Alan’s instructions above except for one change: I don’t set a default category for all syndicated posts. I do that for each participant individually so they get their own unique category (and make sure all incoming categories are converted to tags as Alan’s instructions say). The reason for this will become apparent below.

Also, you can choose to set up the syndication update scheduling how you like. Because the OpenEdMOOC Hub is smaller, I have it set up like Alan recommends. Because the YogaMOOC is so large, there are typically a few problems with updating automatically. I have to update that one manually each day to deal with those issues.

The Category Featured Images Extended plugin pretty much works right out of the box, but I do recommend setting up a Global Fallback Image, which I will go into below.

The Ajax Search Plugin can be configured how you like, but I recommend making sure to turn on any option that says to search Categories as well.

To get the data from the participants, I created a Google Form and embedded it in a page with some basic instructions and a link to more detailed instructions for those that need it. I just collected the information that I needed – but getting user images is a bit more difficult. Depending on our course, you may want to set up a different system for collecting user images.

The final part of the set-up was to create an initial post that contained the instructions for adding blogs to the hub. I kind of see this post as the cut-off point for older posts – anything older then this was probably not created for the course and can be removed from the Hub. This is up to you of course – you can keep older posts if you like. But this initial post also serves as a visual placeholder to make sure your blog display limit is high enough – if you don’t see the post at the end, then turn up the limit. I also use this post to create the global fall back image for the hub. I set up a default category for the blog, and then add an image branded for the course. The key is to check the “set as global image” option. when editing the Category to add the default image. This will set your course iamge as the default image for anything that doesn’t have one.  This can help you to see any feeds that you set up incorrectly: if you see the image where it shouldn’t be, this signals you that something is wrong with that feed because it is falling back to the default.

Adding People to the Hub

This is where the time consuming part happens. It only takes a minute or two to set up each person, but once you get a long list of people it can add up.  However, this is a time commitment that decreases over time once most people in the course that are going to sign up for the hub are signed up.

Since I used a Google form to collect information, I can get the results in a nice convenient spreadsheet. This is where the fun begins. Some people fill out the form great, others miss a lot. I try to extract a name, a link to a blog feed, and an image for each person. The name and image can be flexible, but if the blog link doesn’t work or has no RSS feed, I mark it as a problem and move to the next one. Additionally, I try to respect what people put in the form. If they say they are using a course tag instead of a full blog, but there is no tag, I mark it as a  problem and move on. Once I get through the whole list, I send an email to those with problems with links to help them their issues (typically a form email with everyone BCC’d on it).

The first step is create a category for each person based on their name (or pseudonym if they choose). Sometimes I have to look at their email address or Twitter account to get a fuller name in order to make sure there aren’t several “John”s or whatever in the system (since some people only seem to enter their first name). As soon as you add a new category, it appears at the top of the list – very convenient. I click on the edit link immediately to add the default image for this participant’s category:

The “add image” option can be found near the bottom of the edit category page. Something to think about for images in the Morphology Lite theme: the system displays the image at full size on the front page. This will lead to a chaotic patchwork effect for images of different sizes. If you like that, then no problem. I really wanted to have an organized grid, so I manually crop and resize each image to 240px by 240px. This takes time, but gives a good grid for the final product.

A quick note on finding images. I tell people to have the image they want on their about page of the blog they use, but not everyone does that. Some of them I have to search the source code for an avatar that is hidden (WordPress loves to do this for some reason). Sometimes I have to pull one of the images off the header or sidebar of the blog. But since many of these are stock images within the popular themes, those run out quickly. So then I look for their Twitter avatar if they have one. But sometimes (more often than you would believe), I come up with no images – anywhere. So I basically run their name through jdenticon to get a unique image and move on.

Once you have an image associated with the category and have it updated, you should see it on the Category page:

The Next step is to go to the Syndication area to add the blog to the Hub. This is where it can get tricky as well. Not all blogging services work the same. WordPress works the best for full blogs and tags/categories. Blogger will also work for full blog, but you have to do some link trickery to get Labels (their version of tags/categories) to work (see Alan’s instructions on this one). Some services like Wix, Weebly, etc are just downright problematic at best. They might need RSS feeds turned on for the whole blog, and often RSS feeds don’t work well at all for tags/categories. See Alan’s instructions again on finding tricky RSS feeds.

Once you have the feed, you will need to add it to the syndication area found here:

If a participant is using a full blog, then you usually pick the first one in the list that comes up when you click “Add.” If they are using WordPress tags/categories, you will usually have to scroll down to the third Option on in the list (which is the feed specifically for the category):

Once the feed is added, I will typically add the participant category right away while their name is still fresh in my mind. Scroll down to find the feed you just added. Of course, if you have a large class this list might get long after too long. If you are adding several and are doing them one at a time by following these directions, you can do a CTRL + F to search the page for “none” and this will take you to the new one you just added in the list since it (theoretically) shouldn’t have updated yet. Click on the “Categories” link under the feed you just added:

Then scroll down that page to find the category list, look for the person’s name you just created, click the box next to them, and save:

This will connect their category named after them (which is attached to their image) to their specific feed that you just added. What I usually do after this is go back to syndicated websites, search for the new feed again, and click the “Update Now” button next to it. This lets me check to see if everything is working while also clearing out the “none” next to the “last update” label so that I can search for the next feed I add easily. Once that is finished, it should tell you how many posts were pulled in:

If you are using Morphology Lite, there is still one step needed to add blog posts to the front page. Morphology only displays posts on the front page that are set to the post format of “Image.” FeedWordPress pulls in all posts as a “Standard” post format, even if you tell it to use the “Image” post format. That feature just doesn’t work in Morphology for some reason. However, it does give you the ability to moderate posts since you have to change each post to the correct format before it appears. Sounds weird, but you would be surprised how much non-course stuff I have gotten in the Hubs (resumes, recipes, and randomness, oh my!).

You can find the posts you need to update easily in the Posts list – Image post formats have an image symbol next to them, and the new ones just added should be missing it:

Click edit to update the post. Then change the post format from “Standard”:

To “Image”:

Save, and you are done.

Alternatively, once you get a large number of posts, it may be hard to go into the post list and find one or two new posts hiding in hundreds of links. You can go to the Categories page and use the search bar to find the category you just added, then click on the number in the Count column to just display those posts from that category:

Then I usually like to go to the hub to make sure the new smiling face is in there, just to make sure:

That is about it – repeat until everyone is in. I will also send out a mass email to all that I added successfully as well as a mass email to those that had problems so that they will all know where they stand. A quick note: if people update their post on their blog, FeedWordPress will also update the related info on your Hub. This will reset the post Format back to “Standard,” and the post will no longer appear on the front page. You might want to go through the full post list from time to time to catch these older updated posts.

I tend to go through the moderation process each morning just to make sure it doesn’t pile up.

Hope that covers it all – I will update if I run across anything I forgot.

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

Posted: November 7, 2017
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Learner Activity Hub Guide for #OpenEdMOOC and #Yo...

Learner Activity Hub Guide for #OpenEdMOOC and #YogaMOOC

For those that are taking The Science and Practice of Yoga (YogaMOOC) or Introduction to Open Education (OpenEdMOOC), you might have noticed that we have a learner activity hub for both (OpenEdMOOC here and YogaMOOC here). We did this so that learners could create their reflections on their own websites, but still be connected in manner that is better than posting links in the discussion forum.

After putting many people in the hub, I realized it would have been a good idea to create a more comprehensive guide to creating a blog for these hubs. Better late than never. If you have created a blog and got the email that you were successfully added, this guide might still help you improve your blog. If you got an email saying there is a problem, this guide will hopefully help trouble shoot what caused that. If you are thinking of submitting a blog, please read this guide fully before doing so (even if you are an experienced blogger – not all blog platforms work the same in the hub).

I will start off by going over setting up a blog for the hub, and then cover the parts of the form to sign up for the hub (OpenEdMOOC here and YogaMOOC here) and why we need that info. First, the most important part.

You Need to Have a Blog

A blog is optional in either course, therefore you will have to set one up on your own (or use an existing one). We do not create a blog for you (some people filled out the form thinking that was the case). The blog you use will need to be public (private blogs do not work with the hub). Putting your blog in the hub is also optional, so no problem if you want to keep it private. blogs are the best option to use with the hub, so if you are new to blogging (or want to create another blog just for this course), then I recommend starting there. The Hub uses WordPress itself, so it works best with those blogs that also use WordPress. Blogger/Blogspot blogs also work well (just read the exception to tags/categories below). Other blogging platforms – Tumblr, Weebly, Wix,, etc – are hit and miss. The Hub uses a technology called RSS to pull in posts, and some of those platforms have RSS feeds turned off it seems. If you use those platforms, you will have to turn on RSS. If you want to use one of those platforms with tags/categories (see below), you will also need to turn on RSS for tags/categories.

Setting up a Blog

Once you create your blog, you will need to set it up so that we can pull in your posts to the Hub. A newly created blog will generally need a few things to be ready for the hub. Since I am recommending WordPress, I will cover how to this on WordPress – but other blogging platforms should have similar functions.

First, you need to decide if the blog is going to only be used only for the course, or if it will have other topics covered (or already has). Either way is fine – if you want to cover a wide range of topics, but only want to have the ones on your course feed into the Learner Hub, we can do that with tags and categories.

Once you have decided how to use the blog, come up with a title for it that matches how you want to use it. Then change the title in the General Settings. We have probably 30 or so blogs currently in the Hub just called “Site Title” because many don’t change this setting :)

Next, you will probably want to edit the About page that most blogs come with. It is a good idea to put a picture you want to use in the Hub on that page. You have probably noticed that the Hub shows pictures of some people with their post, and generic ones for others. This is because I was able to find images of some people on their websites. I start with the About page and use any image there. Then I look on the sidebar or any other places for images. I also look on Twitter for an avatar there if you put that in there. I then look for any other images on the blog, even if they are stock images from the default template. If I can’t find anything, or the only image I can find has already been used, then I put your name in jdenticon. Note that you can use any image of yourself you want, or even something else to represent yourself like your favorite animal. Just note in the comment forms where the image is that you want me to use, or respond to the confirmation email from me with the image or link to it. Whatever you are comfortable with – your picture or some other image – is fine with me.

Finally, you need to have at least one blog post about the course you are taking, even if the whole blog is going to be used for the course. People try to spam the hub with their… whatever, so having content on your website about the course let’s me know you are legit. WordPress blogs start off with a sample blog post already there. The Hub seems to ignore these if they are left as is, so make sure to change that post to something about the course, or delete it and write a new one. If you want to use tags or categories to designate which content to pull into the Hub, then make sure to add a “YogaMOOC” tag or category to your post (these are called “labels” in Blogger). This is probably the biggest mistake people make filling out the form – they say they are using a tag or category, but then I can’t find a post with either one. I respect people’s wishes on this, so make sure to do what you indicated in the form. If you need help on tags/categories/labels, see these links:

Final note – if you don’t like the way your blog looks, there are thousands of different themes you can choose from to change it.

Filling Out The Form

Once your blog is ready to go, it is time to fill out the form for your course. I wanted to make a couple of notes about the fields on the form:

Name / Pseudonym: We use this to sort the posts in the Hub. Each person is given a category based on their name or a pseudonym. Please note: if you put just your first name in here, there is a chance that will get taken up quickly, and I will have to improvise a longer name for you. Names like “Kat”, “John”, etc get taken up quickly.

Email: This is where we will send confirmation or notification of failure. These are bulk emails, so be sure to check your spam folder.

Twitter Name: Not a requirement, but if you have an avatar there you would like to use in the Hub, then fill this out.

Blog URL: This is the second place people often make a mistake. This is the link to your blog for the people that read it, not to the control panel for your blog. Make sure to view your blog and share that full URL. Also remember: if you can’t copy what you put into this field and put it in a browser to pull up your website, then neither can I. Please make sure it is a full web address. Also, make sure it is not a link to your Facebook page or Instagram account – these are not blogs.

Hub Options: Make sure to choose the one that you will use (full blog dedicated to course, using blog category for course, or using blog tag for course). This is where I find the most mistakes in the form – people say they will use a tag or category and then do not. Also, make sure to use the tag/category designated for your course (YogaMOOC or OpenEdMOOC). Please note that using hashtags like #YogaMOOC or #OpenEdMOOC in the title or body of a blog is not the same as using the label or category feature of your blog.

Comments or Concerns: Let us know any comments/concerns you have here. Also, if there is a specific image you want to use in the Hub, let us know where it is in this field.

You will only need to submit the form once. The process of getting your blog into the hub is a manual one, so there could be a delay before I get it finished (especially if you submit outside of business hours in my timezone). If your blog makes it in the Hub, I will send a confirmation email. If there is problem, you will get an email about that (a generic one that repeats some of this blog post). Once you have fixed any issues with the Hub, respond to the email to let me know your blog is ready to try again. Due to the large number of learners in our courses, I can’t go back and check each one to see if errors have been fixed or not – you will have to let me know when it is ready. Don’t fill out the form again – just respond to the email.

Also, no need to fill out the form every time you create a blog post. The process of pulling in new posts is somewhat automated once you are in.

New blog posts have to go through a process of moderation in order to make sure no spam slips through. Therefore, there may be a delay from the time you publish your post and when it appears on the Hub.

Finally, if you want to change anything about the way your blog appears in the Hub after it has been successfully added, just respond to the confirmation email. No need to fill out the form again.

I hope this covers anything, but feel free to let me know if I left anything out. Have fun, and thank you for your participation!

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

Posted: October 24, 2017
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Designing Innovative Courses with Self-Determined ...

Full Title:

Designing Innovative Courses with Self-Determined / Heutagogical Learning Pathway Mapping

About This Presentation:

Presentation at the OLC Innovate Conference in New Orleans, LA on April 5, 2017. From the session abstract”

Expanding upon last’s year’s customizable pathways session, this innovation lab will look at how to design courses that allow learners to map and follow their own personalized learning pathway. Based on the dual-layer MOOC model (DALMOOC / HumanMOOC), this lab will look at current ideas and future directions as well.

See also the online extended abstract.

Presentation Date: April 5, 2017
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Exploring Virtual Reality, Synchronous Learning, a...

Full Title:

Exploring Virtual Reality, Synchronous Learning, and Google Apps with Preservice Teachers with an Interactive Technology Workshop and Tutorial

About This Presentation:

Presentation at the Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education 2017 conference in Austin, Texas on March 7, 2017. From the Session Abstract:

This best practices session focuses on the rationale, structure, content, and procedures of a structured hands-on exploration of advanced technology tools as it connected to literacy-focused instruction for preservice elementary teachers. The technology carnival workshop was attended by preservice teachers and was facilitated by faculty. The rationale for the student-centered technology carnival centered on engaging preservice teachers in a large public university-based teacher preparation program around three technology tools they might not ordinarily consider for technology integration: Virtual Reality, Synchronous Learning, and selected Google Apps for Education (GAFE). Objectives of the technology carnival for preservice teachers included helping preservice teacher to explore and evaluate the tools and to identify applications towards their future literacy teaching in the classroom. Handouts and resources will be provided.

(co-presented with lead presenter Peggy Semingson and Dana Owens)

See also the proceedings and brief paper.

Presentation Date: March 7, 2017
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Examining the Interaction Between Wearables and Vi...

Full Title:

Examining the Interaction Between Wearables and Virtual / Augmented Reality From a Design and Theoretical Perspective

About This Presentation:

Presentation at the aWEAR16: Wearable Technologies, Knowledge Development, and Learning in Stanford, CA on November 14, 2016. From the Session Abstract:

As wearable devices and augmented / virtual reality become more prominent in the educational landscape, educators are faced with many dilemmas. New technology is costly. Research into effective usage is slim. Practical application examples are few and far between. Additionally, as these technologies merge or interact with each other and existing educational situations, new possibilities and challenges are created. As is usually the case with any emerging technology, learning theory and philosophy are often left out of the conversation in the rush to implement (or block) new ideas. This session will examine the confluence of virtual/augmented reality and wearable devices through a dual lens of instructional design and educational philosophy.

(co-presented with Justin T. Dellinger)

Presentation Date: November 14, 2016
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Utilizing Innovative Customizable Pathways / Dual-...

Full Title:

Utilizing Innovative Customizable Pathways / Dual-Layer MOOC Course Design For True Individualized Learning

About This Presentation:

Presentation at the OLC Innovate Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana on April 20, 2016. From the session abstract:

Recent work on customizable pathways course design points to interesting possibilities for individualized learning. This session will discuss how to create dual-layer courses.

See also the online extended abstract

Presentation Date: April 20, 2016
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Bot-Teachers in Hybrid Massive Open Online Cours...

Full Title:

Bot-Teachers in Hybrid Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): A Post-Humanist Experience

About This Publication:

Networked technologies have created many learning opportunities and led to new learning models such as massive open online courses (MOOCs). However, MOOCs are an evolving learning model that are even today changing according to learners’ needs. First generation cMOOCs and second generation xMOOCs are now being followed by third generation hybrid MOOCs. In these evolution cycles, there are many experimental practices such as the use of bot-teachers. This study examines and explains hybrid MOOCs and then focuses on the use of bot-teachers within a post-humanist perspective, using teaching presence from the community of inquiry (CoI) and actor-network theory (ANT) as theoretical lenses. The research findings reveal that, while the use of bot-teachers is promising and beneficial in terms of facilitating and increasing discourse, it is ineffective in providing other components of teaching presence such as direct instruction, and/or design and organisation. However, analysis found that the use of bot-teachers is very helpful in increasing interaction within a learning community and can be used as an assistant during the teaching/learning process. Additionally, learners’ positive behaviours indicate that bot-teachers seem to be working in some respects, indicating that they still hold promise as an educational tool.

Published: August 29, 2017
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From Instructivism to Connectivism: Theoretical ...

Full Title:

From Instructivism to Connectivism: Theoretical Underpinnings of MOOCs

About This Publication:

While the first MOOCs were connectivist in their approach to learning, later versions have expanded to include instructivist structures and structures that blend both theories. From an instructional design standpoint the differences are important. This paper will examine how to analyze the goals of any proposed MOOC to determine what the epistemological focus should be. This will lead to a discussion of types of communication needed—based on analysis of power dynamics—to design accurately within the determined epistemology. The paper also explores later stages of design related to proper communication of the intended power structure or theoretical design as these relate to various activities and expectations in the MOOC.

Published: April 12, 2016
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What’s Cooking in the MOOC Kitchen: Layered MO...

Full Title:

What’s Cooking in the MOOC Kitchen: Layered MOOCs

About This Publication:

During several panel presentations at the AECT Annual Convention in Indianapolis in November 2015, concerns with MOOCs were raised. In this paper the authors discuss a few of those concerns of extra interest, and explain the relatively new customizable dual-layer MOOC course design. This new paradigm of MOOC design holds promise to alleviate some of the concerns with open global MOOCs.

(co-authored with Dr. Jenny S. Wakefield)

Published: March 17, 2016
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Understanding Instructional Designs and Teaching...

Full Title:

Understanding Instructional Designs and Teaching Strategies of Massive Open Online Courses

About This Publication:

This study examined instructional designs and teaching strategies of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), with a focus on the activities and expectations for students to complete the courses. It is hoped that such an examination will help in the development of a course taxonomy which will help learners set better expectations before they take college-level courses. This effort will also provide guidance for instructional design and technology choices beyond MOOC settings in a global learning environment, since emerging designs such as MOOCs are often designed for learners who would otherwise not having an opportunity to learn. Therefore, this taxonomy could be helpful to learners from different cultures, due to differences in language backgrounds and cultural experiences of learning.

(co-authored with Dr. Lin Lin)

Published: April 17, 2015
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Virtual Reality and Wearables in Online Learning...

Full Title:

Virtual Reality and Wearables in Online Learning: Finding the Human at the Center of the Technology

About This Research Study:

Several studies are currently in the planning stages to investigate the overlap between Virtual Reality, wearable devices, and humanizing online instruction. Various grants and journal articles are being explored along this line of research.

Posted: June 17, 2016

Customizable Modality Pathway Learning Design: E...

Full Title:

Customizable Modality Pathway Learning Design: Exploring Personalized Learning Choices Through a Lens of Self-Regulated Learning

About This Research Study:

This study was conducted to complete my dissertation. From the abstract: “Open online courses provide a unique opportunity to examine learner preferences in an environment that removes several pressures associated with traditional learning. This mixed methods study sought to examine the pathways that learners will create for themselves when given the choice between an instructor-directed modality and learner-directed modality. Study participants were first examined based on their levels of self-regulated learning. Follow-up qualitative interviews were conducted to examine the choices that participants made, the impact of the course design on those choices, and what role self-regulation played in the process. The resulting analysis revealed that participants desired an overall learning experience that was tailored to personal learning preferences, but that technical and design limitations can create barriers in the learning experience. The results from this research can help shape future instructional design efforts that wish to increase learner agency and choice in the educational process.”

Further research and grant opportunities are being explored to continue this topic.

Posted: May 15, 2016

Participants’ Experiences Regarding Engagement...

Full Title:

Participants’ Experiences Regarding Engagement and Self-Directed Learning in Open Online Courses

About This Research Study:

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) give researchers a unique window into examining engagement in online courses. Without the typical motivation of grades or the possible threat of failure, learners are left to self-direct their engagement with course content and activities. By investigating the reasons why learners either complete or drop-out of MOOCs, this mixed-methods study sought to gain insight into participants’ experiences of self-directed learning in MOOCs. The research from this study has been presented at several conferences, and a journal article is currently in development.

Posted: April 12, 2015

Understanding Instructional Designs and Teaching...

Full Title:

Understanding Instructional Designs and Teaching Strategies of Massive Open Online Courses

About This Research Study:

This study examined instructional designs and teaching strategies of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), with a focus on the activities and expectations for students to complete the courses. It is hoped that such an examination will help in the development of a course taxonomy which will help learners set better expectations before they take college-level courses. This effort will also provide guidance for instructional design and technology choices beyond MOOC settings in a global learning environment, since emerging designs such as MOOCs are often designed for learners who would otherwise not having an opportunity to learn. Therefore, this taxonomy could be helpful to learners from different cultures, due to differences in language backgrounds and cultural experiences of learning. This study was conducted with Dr. Lin of the University of North Texas and submitted to the American Educational Research Association for consideration.

Posted: July 27, 2014