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.

WordPress.com 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, Web.com, 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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Further Reflections on #OLCInnovate

After last reflecting on a specific issue at the OLC Innovate, I wanted to dive into a few random reflections and then cover my session. In many ways, I have been getting burned out on conferences. Going to session after session of hit or miss topics and then straight to mixers in the evening can be a bit of a chore. Of course, I realize that many people that attend are like me – they have to present something in order to get funding to attend. So I recognize that sessions are a necessary thing for many people. It just gets hard to go to sessions all day long.

I have always wanted to do a dual-layer conference in the same vein as our learning pathways model: one option of structured presentations and another option of unstructured unconference time that attendees can mix and match to their liking. Or even a day of structure followed by a day of unconferencing. The OLC Innovate conference had some different options like that with the Innovation Lab – a place where you could roam in and look at anything from games to design thinking to improvisation. It’s not exactly a dual-layer design, but still flexible. Due to some lingering headaches, I wasn’t able to attend everything in the Innovation Lab, but what I did see was quite enjoyable. Some of the highlights:

  • Game Design. I wish I could explore game design more in depth, but the taste of it I got at OLC Innovate will probably drive me back into exploration even more. Keegan Long-Wheeler and John Stewart from OU both do an excellent job framing game design in education. Keegan chronicled their lab activities better than I could, so read his post for a better summary. Also see me playing Nintendo Switch as well as hear about our epic dinner adventures.
  • Improvisation and Innovation. My last post described how I was not happy with some of the framing of Innovation at OLC Innovate. The Innovation Lab was a welcome counter point to that narrative. Ben Scragg, Dave Goodrich, and many others showed us how innovation can occur in every day activities, using everything from improv audience participation skits to the most excellent blues guitar improv of Rick Franklin.
  • Legos. Yep, there were Legos at OLC Innovate. I played with them. I tweeted about them. Apparently my Tweet about Legos was honest enough to win me an award. I can now prove to any doubters that I am certifiably honest now :)
  • The Prophet of Innovation Doom. Who ever created this Twitter account is weird. They should probably be banned from OLC events for life. Or put in charge of OLC. Not sure which one yet.

Now for my session at OLC Innovate. I was a bit nervous about this one. This year would be my fourth presentation along the topics of open learning and learner agency (the first two were at ET4Online and then the next two at OLC Innovate). The past three years were successful mostly because I knew many of the people coming to my sessions already, and I knew they were generally in favor of my work. It is easy to joke around, get audience participation, and go off on tangents when you already have that rapport with the attendees. Plus, the first two years I presented with my regular co-presenter Harriet Watkins. Last year Harriet was at my session even though we weren’t able to present together. This year, Harriet and many of the people I was used to presenting with or to were not going to be there. My security blanket was gone. Additionally, even most of the people that were there and that I already knew (like Keegan and John) were presenting at the same time. So I went into this session not knowing who would show up (if anyone) and even if they would want to participate in the discussion or laugh at my corny jokes.

Luckily, I had a great time. I would say that it was even my most interactive session yet. We had a great time digging through the practicals of designing a course that allows learners to self-map their learning pathway. And they asked some really hard questions. I like it when that happens. I had a line of people afterwards asking me questions. Someone even told me I was one of the few truly innovative presentations at the conference. Take that ELI! :)

(ELI rejected a presentation on the same topic a few years ago. I’m still a little bitter about that I am told.)

My only regret about my session is that special situations outside of work made me too busy to connect with Virtually Connecting to bring them into my session again. I did that last year and it was a blast. Keegan was a part of that last year and his blog post backs up how good of an idea it was to bring them into my session. Of course, it was thanks to Harriet, Rebecca HogueAutumm Caines, Whitney Kilgore, Maha Bali (I even practiced pronouncing her name correctly over and over again and then was too busy or sick to be in VC), and others with VC that made it so successful last year. Hopefully next time!

Here were some highlights from the session that will apply to future posts I am sure. Sorry that I didn’t capture names well enough to give credit to these ideas – if you said one of these let me know and I will update the post!

  • Competencies. My goal was to talk about how to convert objectives to competencies, because that is what I usually have to do with the instructors I am used to working with. The attendees at my session were coming up with great competencies already. What did they need me for? They even brought up several topics that were difficult to have in both competency and objective formats. They weren’t giving me a free pass, that was for sure. The best kind of questions are the hard ones that expose problems with your ideas.
  • Open Rubrics. While discussing the need to have less detailed rubrics, one attendee pointed out that learners could even create their own rubric. In other words, it would be a rubric with the conditions and criteria blank, for the learner to create in a way that allows them to prove they have learned the content or mastered the skill or whatever it may be. This was an idea brought up last year, but in a more general form of allowing learners to grade themselves. This is a more concrete idea that would lend itself more to situations where grades are required.
  • Gamification. Some one mentioned that in many ways, self-mapping is like creating a game out of one’s learning journey. In the Game Station at the Innovation Lab I was re-introduced to Twine. Twine is “an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories.” Teacher could look at creating their neutral zone and pathways options in Twine. Learners could use Twine in place of something like Storify possibly. I need to get in and play with the tool some, but I like the idea of looking at a self-mapped pathway as a game.
  • Real Heutagogy. Someone actually came to the session because he knew the term “heutagogy.” This is good, but also scary. Would my idea live up to scrutiny by someone that actually knows a lot about heutagogy? Apparently, it did. He liked it. That is a good sign.
  • Visualizing Pathways. There was a lot of interest in visualizing the pathways that learners take. My mock-up of what that could look like sparked that. We need to find ways to create visual representations of this, because I think it could actually help instructors gain insight into what is happening in their courses. Are there certain points where all learners come back to the instructivist option? Or maybe flee it to the connectivist option? Would those be places where the instructor is exerting too much control? If the learner could see those patterns, would that tell them something they maybe have missed? Is there something happening out in the less structured pathway they are missing? Learner self-analytics: it could be a thing.

There is probably more that I am missing, but this is getting long. As others have said, the conversations and connections were the real gold of this conference. If I get to go again in the future (you never know where the budget in the State of Texas will be at that point), my focus will definitely be on the Innovation Lab and the interaction times. And, of course, the OLCInnovateSnark Twitter Tag as well :)

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: April 19, 2017
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Can the Student Innovate? An #OLCInnovate Reflecti...

Can the Student Innovate? An #OLCInnovate Reflection

The 2nd OLC Innovate conference is now over. I am sure there will be many reflections out there on various aspects of the conference. I hope to get to reflect on my presentation on learning pathways and some of the ideas that attendees shared. But I wanted to first dig into one of the more problematic aspects of the conferee: the place and role of students.

The biggest problem related to students at the conference was how they were framed as cheaters at every turn. Chris Gilliard wrote a blog post that explores this aspect in depth. I was able to finally meet and hang out with Chris and many others at Innovate. Those of us that got to hang out with Chris got to hear him pondering these issues, and his blog post makes a great summary of those ponderings.

The other student issue I wanted to reflect was also part of what Chris pondered at the conference as well:

Of course, as soon as I tweeted that, we found there were a few sessions that had students there. But for the most part, the student voice was missing at OLC Innovate (like most conferences).

At some levels, I know how difficult it is to get students at conferences. Even giving them a discounted or free registration doesn’t help them with expensive hotel or travel costs. Sponsoring those costs doesn’t help them get a week off from class or work or both to attend. Its a daunting thing to coordinate. But considering the thousands of attendees at OLC Innovate representing tens or hundreds of thousands of learners out there, surely some effort to find the money would have brought in a good number if the effort had been there.

But beyond that, it seemed that in many places the whole idea of students even being able to “innovate” was left out of some definitions of innovation. Not all, of course. Rolin Moe brought his Innovation Installation back to OLC Innovate, which served as a welcome space to explore and ponder the difficulties in defining “innovation” (those pesky-post modernists always wanting us to “deconstruct” everything….) Rolin did an excellent job of looking at situating the definition of innovation as an open dialogue – a model I wish more would follow:

The definitions of innovation became problematic in the sessions and keynotes. The one that really became the most problematic was this quote from one keynote:

(I am also not a fan of the term “wicked problems”)

The context for this definition was the idea that innovation is a capability that is developed, and really only happens after a certain level of ability is obtained (illustrated by a pianist that has to develop complex technical skill before they can make meaningful innovative music). The idea that some creativity/innovation isn’t “good” was highlighted throughout the same keynote:

For context, here is the list of “Innovation Capabilities” that were shared:

There was also various other forms of context, all of which I thought were good angles to look at, but still very top-down:

This was capped off by the idea that there are “good kinds” of innovation and “bad kinds” of innovation, and we should avoid the bad innovations:

Of course, the master of all meme media Tom Evans made a tool to help us make these decisions:

What one person sees as a “bad” innovation might be a “good” innovation to another. Not sure how to make the determination in such an absolute sense.

There was also an interesting terms of “innovation activist” that was thrown in there that many questioned:

I get that many want a concrete definition of innovation. But I think there are nuances that get left out when we push too strongly in any one direction for our definitions. For example, I agree that innovation is a capability that can be trained and expanded in individuals. But it is also something that just happens when a new voice looks at a problem and comes up with a random “out of the blue” idea. My 6 year old can look at some situation for the first time and blurt out innovative ideas that I had never heard of. Of course, he will also blurt out many ideas that are innovative to him, but that I am already aware of. And there lies the difficulty of defining “innovation”….

Whatever innovation is, there is a relative element to it where certain ideas are innovative to some but not to others. Then there is the relative element that recognizes that innovation is a capability that can be cultivated, but cultivation of that capability is not necessarily a prerequisite to doing something “innovative.”

In other words, any definition of innovation needs to include the space for students to participate, even if they are new to the field that is “being innovated.” The list of Educational Capabilities pictured above is very instructor/administrator/leader centric. Some of those items could be student-centered, but the vocabulary on the slide seems to indicate otherwise. But ultimately I guess it goes back to whether one sees innovation as absolute or relative to begin with. If Innovation (with a capital “I”) is absolute, then there are definitely some things that are innovative at all times in all contexts and some things that aren’t, and therefore Innovation is a capability that has to be developed and studied in order to be understood before participating. But if innovation (with a lower case “i”) is relative, then anyone that is willing to can participate. Including students. But you rarely (at any conference) see the student voice represented in the vendor hall. And as with any conference, how goes the vendor hall, so goes the conference….

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: April 12, 2017
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Designing Innovative Courses with Self-Determined ...

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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...

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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...

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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-...

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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...

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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 ...

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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...

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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...

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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