Who to Follow: Derek Bruff

Derek Bruff

Derek Bruff maintains a blog entitled “Agile Learning” and can also be found on Twitter. He has a PhD in mathematics from Vanderbilt University, taught at Harvard University, published a book on active learning, and currently teaches at Vanderbilt and is the director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. In addition to all of those impressive accomplishments, Bruff is currently part of a group that’s creating two MOOCs on best practices in STEM teaching, using a National Science Foundation grant.

Agile Learning

Bruff explains that he entitled his blog “agile learning” to “describe a certain kind of on-the-fly responsiveness to student learning needs in the classroom.” From reading through his posts, it’s clear that he does “practice what he preaches”– he’s an “agile learner” himself. In his current position, he teaches teachers, and as he says, “I find that I need a similar kind of agility. I never know what resources, ideas, or experiences I’ll be called upon to share with a colleague as we talk about teaching. As a result, I find myself learning about all sorts of things that might come in handy in a consultation or workshop one day.”

In part, I chose to highlight Derek Bruff in my “Who to Follow” assignment because I found his mathematics background intriguing. I’ve always been a right-brained, social science-type of person, and so I know I can learn from someone who has such a unique perspective to education and who is naturally predisposed to be mathematical and analytical (he teaches classes on cryptography, linear algebra, and statistics). Reading through a few of his posts and skimming over the topics of his other posts, it’s apparent that he writes on all kinds of interesting issues: he talks about social pedagogies, MOOCs, visual thinking, how to motivate students, etc. He also actually says that his blog represents what Gardner Campbell would call his “own personal cyberinfrastucture,” so it was neat to explore a fully developed personal cyberinfrastructure.

Recent Post: Flipped Literature Classrooms

His most recent post was entitled, “Class Time Reconsidered: Flipping the Literature Class.” In this post, he acknowledges that he used to think it was silly to consider flipping a class like literature. He explains, “I used to joke that flipping a literature class would be a terrible idea. Students would read silently together in class, then discuss the reading online later. Who would do that?” But, he goes on to describe some of the approaches two literature professors have used to successfully “flip” their literature classrooms. Professor Helen Shin used an entire class session to have students perform an in-class reading of a short text, so the reading would be completed in a “more holistic and organic fashion” as compared to the “piecemeal” approach to close reading usually used for longer works. Similarly, Professor Humerto Garcia asked students to use class time to read and comment on each other’s blog posts. In both instances, a significant part of the class time was spent on silent reading/writing time (followed by robust discussion).

Bruff explains that through the approach of each of these professors, the learning activities were “collaborative” and “communal” and consequently, effective. He explains that “close reading of a text and responding to another writer’s argument are both important skills in a literature course. Why not have students practice those skills during class, when they can receive feedback on that practice from both their instructor and their peers? … The flipped classroom is about moving the hard parts of learning into the classroom, where they can benefit from what Helen Shin calls “shared temporal, spatial, and cognitive presence.”

Even though this post was short, it was well-written, easy to understand, and evidence-based. I expect that Bruff’s other posts would be just as useful, which is why I recommend Derek Bruff as someone to follow.

 

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Blog Updates

I had already applied a theme to my blog and spent some time creating the header and footer “VMW” text/image, so most of the work I did for this assignment consisted of widgets. In the side bar, I added a search bar, a tag cloud, recent comments, and categories. The “categories” section looks a little lonely right now, but I imagine as I take other classes and categorize those posts appropriately, this section will grow.

I also added a new menu item, called ED 654, and created a “child” page that will house all of the collections for this course. This took the longest and I spent quite a while adding pages/posts/menus, trying to figure out how to get it to do what I wanted. After some assistance from our chief nousionaut, I was finally able to organize the posts the way I wanted.

I also added a cutesy quote by Eleanor Roosevelt (“all of life is a constant education”) as the blog tagline.

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Rich Reflection: The Web We Need to Give Students

Rich Reflection, “The Web We Need to Give Students,” Bright

I think, generally speaking, it’s best to empower people to help themselves, rather than simply do the task for them. If given the opportunity and the tools, people will take ownership of a project or an idea or their community, and that’s when progress can really start to happen.  This concept of empowerment and agency stuck with me as I read “The Web We Need to Give Students,” particularly as I read this section:

 “But almost all arguments about student privacy, whether those calling for more restrictions or fewer, fail to give students themselves a voice, let alone some assistance in deciding what to share online. Students have little agency when it comes to education technology — much like they have little agency in education itself… It’s important that learners have control over their work — their content and their data.”

I agree with this article that student agency in education is important, particularly in higher education. Interestingly, thinking about student agency and empowerment made me think of another term I’d heard recently: adhocracy. According to a McKinsey & Company article, there are three organizational models for running a business (or, organizing education, as the case may be). Meritocracy means decisions are made based on data or authoritative individual knowledge/skill. In bureaucracies, formal authority or seniority is privileged. In adhocracy, “action is privileged.” In other words, “the default in an adhocracy is to experiment—to try a course of action, receive feedback, make changes, and review progress.” This recursive, experimental type of approach to managing student web presence sounds similar to the ideas contained in “The Web We Need to Give Students.” TraditionThis image provides a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, which reads: "The secret of education lies in respecting the pupil. It is not for you to choose what he shall know, what he shall do. It is chosen and foreordained and he only holds the key to his own secret."al bureaucratic models of housing and managing student work can evolve into something more “adhocratic” as students have the opportunity to experiment with their own web presence and responsibly curate their own scholarly contributions.

According to Paulo Friere as quoted here, traditional educational models presuppose the teacher/university as the entity that bestows knowledge onto the student. Teachers lecture; students take notes. The university sets curriculum; students study it. Instead of this traditional model, Friere proposes that students and learners should be treated as “co-creators” of knowledge. By giving students their own web domain, we move closer to providing students with the opportunity to be a “co-creator” of knowledge, and we give them the opportunity to exercise agency in their own education.

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Rich Reflection: A Domain of One’s Own

Rich Reflection on “A Domain of One’s Own,” Wired

In the New Yorker article “Small Change” Malcolm Gladwell describes the benefits/drawbacks to online organizing. Particularly, he argues that online connections are primarily comprised of “weak ties,” which he says can be powerful in certain situations. In particular, the networks and connections we create online constantly provide us with new and fresh ideas and opportunities for collaboration.

This image provides a quotation which says, "our acquaintances--not our friends--are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvelous efficiency. It's terrific at the diffusion of innovation [and] interdisciplinary collaboration..."

As I read “A Domain of One’s Own,” I was struck by how UMW, Gardner Campbell, and Jim Groom have done just that; they have worked to maximize the creative and connective potential of online engagement. According to the article:

“For UMW, the openness of BlueHost’s proto-cloud was a liberating alternative to the closed learning management systems that all my ed-tech pals rail against. Why, for example, should a university provide its students with temporary cyberinfrastructure — email accounts, web hosting — that was increasingly redundant for many, and would in any case be supplanted after graduation?”

The article goes on to explain some impressive UMW stats: aggregated blog posts from 40 UMW students about world travels, student created research sites, 35 original literary journals written by UMW students, etc. I visited the UMW blogs page, which contains a “latest posts” box that links to students latest blog posts, a flickr feed, a link to all study abroad posts, and a link to course wikis, among other things. Anyone in the UMW community has the opportunity to network and collaborate with others– either at UMW or other universities. Collaboration and network-forming is not limited to a single semester-long, course/section/Blackboard cohort.

The internet may not be good at some things, but, as Gladwell points out in the quote above, it is good at creating “networks.” It is good at the “diffusion of innovation” and “interdisciplinary collaboration.” It seems to me that rather than try and “do what we’ve always done, just digitally” (the “Digital Facelift” idea), UMW has effectively set traditional learning management systems aside, embraced the strengths of the internet, and maximized the collaborative and creative potential of digital tools.

 

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Belshaw Reflections and Linear Learning

All of my Rich Reflections for Doug Belshaw’s “Essential Elements of Digital Literacies” can be found here.

In my Rich Reflection for Belshaw Chapter 4, I created my own version of a “progressively-encoded” and “sequentially-encoded” image. I used Wikimedia Commons for public domain images, Canva to make a simple collage, and Lunapic to pixelate the image. I hope to use these images below to help explain to students in my introductory political science courses that, while the course will be organized and intentionally designed, they shouldn’t expect concepts in political science to unfold in a neat, linear fashion. The political world is too complicated for that; instead of a linear path, we will work towards sharpening, adding detail, and correcting the “big picture” of politics that they already posses.

 

This picture includes two images. In the first image, you can only see a small square of a photograph. In the second image, the image is loaded a little more, so you can see a larger square. You still can't see the whole image.
“Our tendency in education in general is to package-up blocks of learning on a linear pathway. The learner literally does not see the ‘big picture’ of learning — only what comes next” (Belshaw, p. 38).

 

This shows the same image as the first image in this post, but instead of loading one small square at a time, the whole image is loaded. However, it is pixilated so it is difficult to make out exactly what is in the image.
“…letting the learner roam, whilst providing just-in-time support, can lead to a much richer and more enjoyable experience. They can see how it all fits together, even if they haven’t got all of the detail and nuance just yet” (Belshaw, p. 38)

 

This final image shows the US capitol building on the top and a historical painting of the US Revolutionary War on the bottom. Unlike the previous two images, it is fully "loaded" so you can see exactly what it is.

 

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Rich Reflection: Personal Cyberinfrastructure

1. “A Personal Cyberinfrastructure,” by Walter Gardner Campbell

I completed a rich reflection for this article by using hypothes.is, which was easy to use and share! Highly recommend. My annotations/rich reflection on Campbell’s article can be found here. (Just click on the “<” on the right-hand side of the screen if you can’t see the annotations).

2. “A Personal Cyberinfrastructure Revisited,” by Walter Gardner Campbell

Campbell expands on his ideas of a personal cyberinfrastructure. I particularly liked the following excerpts from the video:

This is about the network as an artifact… It’s not simply a matter of technical skill… it’s also about the ability to externalize a model of one’s own conceptual framework.

I think it’s interesting that Campbell emphasizes this idea of “artifact.” Later in the video, he says that creating a personal cyberinfrastructure gives us the opportunity to create an “artifact that is an external representation of your own internal frameworks.” I’d always thought of blogging or informal publishing as primarily focused on sharing a particular message. But, I hadn’t considered that, in the process of sharing a message, we’re actually also sharing how we think the world works; we’re expressing our own “internal frameworks.” Conceptualizing digital citizenship in that way makes it seem less about pure information sharing, and more about artistry and expression.

3. “No Digital Facelifts,” by Walter Gardner Campbell

In this final Gardner Campbell reading, Campbell expands on the idea of moving beyond “digital facelifts.” When I opened the link to this video and saw the title, I was particularly pleased because the Clay Shirky phrase, “digital facelift” was a phrase that I had annotated in my first rich reflection, and so it was definitely a term that caught my attention. According to Campbell, “digital facelift” just refers to this idea that, we’ll keep doing whatever we did before, but now, we’ll just put it on the web. We’ll teach the way we always have, we’ll just use Blackboard or another LMS to help us out (that’s the college classroom version of a “digital facelift.”) We won’t let digital tools or the internet actually transform how we do things or how we think about things.

The part of this video lecture that was most meaningful to me was the three practices that Campbell suggests in place of a “digital facelift.” Instead of merely “doing what we’ve always done, but just put it on the web,” he suggests:

Narrating, curating, and sharing. Narrate: have students think out loud, and “tell the story of the learning.” Curate: arrange and take care of your ideas and your work; begin your life’s work when you begin learning or first start college. Share: put your work out there since it may be valuable to someone or you may make a connection with someone else.

I appreciate this section of the lecture because it was very practical. The previous two readings from Campbell built the case for the benefits a personal cyberinfrastructure, but this part of this video outlined how to actually complete this task, and I found it particularly relevant for the higher ed classroom.

Campbell also quotes Shirky as explaining that “we are living in the middle of the largest increase in the expressive capability of the human race,” and Campbell explains that he believes that “expressive capability” should be the “abiding” and “transforming” concern, especially in higher education. While I agree that this “expressive capability” should be a concern in higher education, I would be curious to explore what else should be an “abiding” and “transforming” concern in higher education. Is expression really the goal of education? Or is a tool we use on our journey towards education? If expression isn’t the goal of education, what is? Truth or accuracy? Discovery or innovation? Moral or personal development? Is expression more important when you’re educating journalists or artists, and less important when you’re educating engineers and physicians? At any rate, I appreciate the conversation Campbell’s personal cyberinfrastructure encourages and his holistic explanation of “disruptive” technologies.

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Rich Reflection: “As We May Think”

Rich Reflection

Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think”

Thus far we seem to be worse off than before—for we can enormously extend the record; yet even in its present bulk we can hardly consult it. This is a much larger matter than merely the extraction of data for the purposes of scientific research; it involves the entire process by which man profits by his inheritance of acquired knowledge. The prime action of use is selection, and here we are halting indeed. There may be millions of fine thoughts, and the account of the experience on which they are based, all encased within stone walls of acceptable architectural form; but if the scholar can get at only one a week by diligent search, his syntheses are not likely to keep up with the current scene.

According to Bush, “one needs not only to make and store a record but also be able to consult it.” This seems quite true: we write papers and do research not only for our own benefit, but also so that others will read them and benefit from our work. We create records and archives and data repositories because we believe that, by gathering information, we can better put it to use. We don’t just want to compile knowledge; we want to use it. However, as Bush states, we have “enormously” extended the record of human knowledge–so much so that the knowledge we have isn’t easily accessed or fully put to use.

Bush introduced his “memex” (predecessor to the internet?) as a way to effectively manage the body of knowledge and address the “enormously extended record.” While the internet and digital tools have clearly achieved some of the things Bush described (speed, condensing information, etc.), I still tend to agree with him that it is difficult to put to use all of the knowledge that we have; it is still difficult to find the right piece of information at the right time, and still difficult to make appropriate connections. Whenever I write a paper or assign a paper to students, the primary problem usually isn’t a lack of resources– the problem is that there’s too many! Consequently, I believe Bush’s article accurately summarizes a significant problem that we still face today, even 70 years after he wrote “As We May Think,” which is: “information overload.” We are still “being bogged down today as specialization increases.” (Which also made me think of a TED Talk I referred to in a previous Search & Research assignment on technological determinism).

Similarly, Bush’s article made me think of a lecture I heard at the beginning of my previous graduate program. I don’t remember the exact context, but the basic point was, if you spend your whole life as an academic researcher, you drill down to a specific research topic, and you push the boundaries of that specific topic, then you are going to have the opportunity to add to the world’s body of knowledge. Things will be known, that, before your work, were not known. However, to put those contributions in perspective, the lecturer offered a diagram like this:

AcademicKnowledge

The main takeaway was: stay humble. Just because you’re expanding the body of human knowledge by pushing out and expanding the circle, there are still a whole lot of things that you don’t know. Like Bush’s work, I think the diagram above also emphasizes the importance of knowledge management. If you’re expanding your side of the circle, but no one from the other side of the circle knows about it, what’s the point? Especially if your two “expansions”/life’s research actually intersect? Without a way to manage human knowledge or connect to others who are studying what you’re studying, the vast amount of information and knowledge that has been created will not be useful.

I do disagree with Bush on one point, though. He says:

“Thus far we seem to be worse off than before– We can enormously extend the record; yet even in its present bulk we can hardly consult it.”

I don’t think we are “worse off than before,” simply because we have too much information to manage our own sum of knowledge or consult all of the relevant resources (and that applies whether we’re talking about Bush’s era or contemporary times). As each individual researcher pushes the boundaries of knowledge in their individual field, the circle grows. That’s good. While not being able to access or connect our knowledge is problematic, that new knowledge isn’t less valuable. It just means collaboration becomes more important than ever, and it means we should continue “pushing out the circle” in the field of managing human knowledge. And, of course, we should continue to seek out new and innovative ways to use digital tools to manage our “enormously extended record” so that they work in the ways first envisioned by Bush’s memex.

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Exploring Digital Citizenship

In my previous post, I outlined a few elements that I think are critical components of both traditional citizenship and digital citizenship: rules, rights, identity, community/group membership, and public works. But what do other people and other sources have to say about digital citizenship?


1. Digital Citizenship: Rules and Rights

9 Rules to Good citizenship include things like respecting the rights of others, treating others courteously, and communicating with empathy.
This common infographic from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) lists 9 “rules” to “good digital citizenship.”

The very first google search result (which, of course, is always a responsible way to conduct research) for “digital citizenship” is DigitalCitizenship.net, tagline: “using technology appropriately.” According to this site:

Digital citizenship is defined as “the norms of appropriate, responsible technology use.”

This is a basic definition of digital citizenship, and a good place to start. According to this initial conceptualization of “digital citizenship,” to be a digital citizen, you follow the rules. You act respectfully, you follow copyright and intellectual property laws, you protect your personal information, etc. The infographic to the right from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) lists 9 “rules” to “good digital citizenship,” all of which I think are reasonable and useful guidelines for proper internet etiquette.

However, as I mentioned in my last post, the institution of “citizenship” encompasses far more than rights-protection and rule-following. When you are a citizen of a country, you know that involves more than paying your taxes and exercising free speech. It involves more than the protection of your personal property or your obligation to obey the speed limit. Similarly, digital citizenship involves more than this list of 9 rules and rights outlined by ISTE.org. Which leads me to my next definition…

 

 

 

 

 


2. Digital Citizenship: Rules and Rights… Oh, But Also, Community and Identity

An Atlantic article entitled, “Digital Natives, Yet Strangers to the Web?” challenges the basic definition of digital citizenship as being merely the “norms of appropriate, responsible technology use.” According to this article, most digital citizenship efforts focus on “simply teaching kids appropriate online behavior; of teaching them how to use gadgets, and how to use those gadgets appropriately.”

An infographic created by the author explains that 50% of teachers rate students' digital citizenship skills as fair or poor, while only 1/4 teachers say digital citizenship is taught at their schools. According to a 2012 Pew Research Survey of parents, 8/10 are concerned about kids' internet privacy, 7/10 worry about kids interacting with strangers, and 5/10 have monitoring devices or parent controls.
This infographic explains the common focus (or lack thereof) of digital citizenship education.

The article argues (and I am inclined to agree) that while we need to practice appropriate online behavior, this does not represent the complete scope of digital citizenship. More is needed.

In particular, this article focuses on a project by teacher Reuben Loewy called the “Living Online Lab.” Not the, “be-smart-when-you’re-online” lab, but the living online lab. Digital citizenship involves following the rules and exercising your rights, but, as in my original conceptualization of “citizenship,” digital citizenship also involves issues of identity and community.

This article argues that education should not stop “at the hardware.” Kids–and adults–need to do more than understand how to use these digital tools, or even how to use these digital tools “responsibly.” According to the article, “Kids not only need to be proficient in how to use digital technology…they also need to deeply, holistically, and realistically understand how the digital world works behind the scenes.”

Digital citizenship requires an understanding of how we’re using digital tools, why we’re using these tools, and the outcome of using these digital tools.

Digital citizenship influences our identity, and provides opportunities for group membership and community. Consider these questions related to digital identity and social implications:

  • How do digital interactions shape our identity? Our values? Our political opinions?
  • Do you think that spending time online pushes you to be a pessimist? An optimist? Neither?
  • What goes on “behind the scenes” online? Do you think that what we see on the internet is primarily an expression of people in power, or does it democratize information?
  • What kinds of power relationships influence the messages we hear, share, and internalize?
  • How do we interact with others (or not interact with others) and create community or tension online?

DigitialCitizenship.net proposes that good digital citizens observe the rules and exercise their rights when it comes to digital tools. The Atlantic article “Digital Natives, Yet Strangers to the Web?” adds to this definition: good digital citizens also understand and consider the impact of online interactions on personal identity formation and social interactions.


3. Digital Citizenship: Rules, Rights, Identity, Community… and also, the Work?

Another common conceptualization of citizenship is the “public works” view of citizenship. This is an energized vision of citizenship in which citizens work side-by-side to accomplish social change. This leads to my third and final conceptualization of digital citizenship:

Digital citizenship encompasses digital/online activism, in which individuals use digital tools to draw attention to issues in order to accomplish social or political change.

You probably recognize these political or advocacy hashtags: #BringBackOurGirls, #ICantBreathe, #icebucketchallenge, #BlackLivesMatter, #JeSuisCharlie, #Kony2012. What situations are they referencing? Even more importantly, did any of these hashtags influence real political or social change? Whether or not social media and online tools are effective forms of advocacy or activism is hotly debated. Some say no, governments can just monitor or influence citizen behavior using digital tools, rendering those tools ineffective (like here). Others argue that online activism just amplifies the voices in politics that are already loud, and doesn’t really offer new opportunities for the marginalized voices to be heard (as in here). Maybe online activism doesn’t even effect real change (see this article).

In particular, an NPR article by Evgeny Morozov explores the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of digital activism. According to Morozov, while digital tools have opened up new avenues of participation and increased the number of people who could partThis poster from UNICEF states, "Like us on Facebook, and we will vaccinate zero children against polio." It demonstrates the importance of pairing "liking something" with actual action.icipate, the quality/effectiveness of participation has declined as a result. Morozov argues that online activism erodes traditional/offline participation, and it is doubtful that online activism can impact true change. If you can click “like,” why would you put yourself into a potentially risky situation and go to a protest march?

Morozov describes the term “slactivism,” which many use in place of “digital activism”: “Slacktivism” is an apt term to describe feel-good online activism that has zero political or social impact. It gives those who participate in “slacktivist” campaigns an illusion of having a meaningful impact on the world without demanding anything more than joining a Facebook group.” Is liking something on Facebook or tweeting something on Twitter truly “online activism,” or is it “slacktivism” or “clicktivism”?

Like Morozov, I am skeptical of the power of online activism/”hashtag activism” to influence real social or political change. Can it bring attention to a cause? Absolutely. Can it educate people about unfamiliar problems? Sure. Does it motivate people to actually donate, protest, or get involved? Maybe, but probably not. Does online activism alone- without any other tools- cause social or political change? I really doubt it.

So what do you think? #powerful or #pointless?


Putting the Pieces Together… 

So, how do these three conceptualizations of digital citizenship (and their respective supporting resources) relate to one another? The pyramid below represents my “working” definition of digital citizenship. The “rules and rights” definition of digital citizenship serves as the foundation; it is the most basic definition, but I believe you must have this definition in place to build up to the other definitions. As you move up the pyramid, you move into the definitions of digital citizenship that challenge us even more. The middle layer challenges us to consider how digital tools can be used to form and build community, and to think about how the mediums we use can shape the messages we hear, share, and internalize. Lastly, the top layer challenges us to think about how we can use digital tools (or not) to shape social and political change. Rights, rules, identity, community, and public work. Where do you think the definition of digital citizenship begins and ends?

This image created by the author illustrates a "pyramid" of digital citizenship. The rights and rules form the foundation, community and identity is in the center, while activism is at the top.

 

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