Bonk / Bb MOOC week 1: Motivation & Encouragement (?)

inside of an Zambian school. The room welcome ...

Blackboard awaits the arrival of learners.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A 5-week MOOC on Instructional Ideas & Technology Tools for Online Success appeals to me, especially when taught by Dr. Curt Bonk. And I’m curious to see how Blackboard is used as the environment for this, for better or worse.

So the first week has us reading up on motivation, tone, and encouragement to help online learners persist and succeed.

And while the content is good, I think for many participants the clearest takeaway at this point is a major sense of cognitive dissonance between the message and the medium. Lisa Lane’s blog has a great discussion going on about this, with Curt Bonk himself and at least one Blackboard employee weighing in. There are Bb tool issues to be sure: The Blackboard discussion board sucks, there is no doubt about it, especially when it is being used at this scale. But I think most of the issues are course design: Why would an open online course be set up to encourage people to use closed-system blogs and wikis? You don’t have to do it that way. But even more so, it is the activity design that I think is the biggest problem thus far. MOOCs certainly have a heightened element of self-organization and learner control, but thus far this MOOC does not feel purposeful about encouraging and facilitating this. We shall see what emerges from the chaos.

I will hold off on posting about week 1 content until after Dr. Bonk’s presentation this afternoon. Unfortunately I will have to watch the archive rather than being able to participate live.

Online learning: the ruin of education?

A soapbox at Occupy Boston

A soapbox at Occupy Boston (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A LinkedIn group discussion (may need to join the Technology in Education group to view) alerted me to a recent Huffington Post article by a 17-year-old who “had the horrific opportunity to experience online learning for a few weeks.” He thus decided to generalize those few weeks to a rant about all online education, including “Any school that uses online learning systems should not be called a school.”

I decided to share the response that I posted to the LinkedIn discussion here, as this is a fundamental tenet of my educational philosophy, and will undoubtedly continue to be revisited on this blog in various ways:

Design matters.
Interaction matters.

Poorly designed classroom-based education with little interaction is not likely to stimulate significant learning. And the same is true for poorly designed online education with little interaction.

The young author of the original article experienced what sounds like a rather lame online learning environment. It is unfortunate that he has made the decision that all online learning is therefore terrible and inferior to other educational approaches. “Online” is not the variable that made his experience bad.

Insisting “online learning is great” or “blended is best” or “in-person education is always superior” does a disservice to the bottom line of what determines the quality of an educational endeavor: the design of that endeavor.

Blackboard and the future of Moodlerooms

"Big Fish Eat Little Fish," engravin...

"Big Fish Eat Little Fish," engraving, dated 1557. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here at MiraCosta, we are customers of both Blackboard and Moodlerooms, so the announcement of Bb’s acquisition of Moodlerooms is more than just a curiosity. Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle have overview articles. IHE’s is better than the Chronicle’s, which is most notable for its bizarre statement that “Now Blackboard essentially owns the open-source alternatives” to the Bb Learn course management system (CMS). Yeah, no. Open source remains open source, there are alternative Moodle hosting services, and there are other open source systems (Canvas, e.g.).

If the topic interests you but you’d rather not dig through articles, blog reactions (which predictably run the gamut from quite positive to intensely negative to “I don’t get it”), and listserv postings, I’ve attempted to distill the various analyses here (please add others in the comments!):


  • Bb is positioning itself to compete with emerging alternative providers of CMS functionality: ERP systems, portal systems and publishers. Bb will be less pushy of Learn and move toward being a “pick your CMS” vendor. This could position Bb better to win consortial/system contracts within which institutions will have choice…
  • Bb recognizes the future value in the CMS is not in the software but in the service. Becomes more about hosting and related services, and less about product / a specific software package.
  • Bb, and specifically Ray Henderson, have seen the light and recognize that future success cannot be accomplished without embracing open source products, principles, and community.
  • This will bring more Moodle hosting services into the market to provide an alternative to big bad Bb, and don’t forget about existing alternatives.

Less than enthusiastic

  • Bb’s plan continues to be to hook customers through the CMS as a gateway to their various other higher-margin products. This deal just broadens their customer base for upselling.
  • Bb’s “contribution” to open source will be code that enables tighter integration of other Bb products with open source CMSs. (This is something that I heard “between the lines” of the Bb/Moodlerooms webinar – anyone else?)
  • Bb is “open washing” and may end up driving away the open source community it purports to be interested in engaging.
  • Don’t forget, Bb is owned by Providence Equity … this may have much more to do with how an equity company runs its investments than any particular Bb/CMS strategy.
  • Get ready to pay more for MoodleRooms.
  • Moodlerooms was already headed down a road of “proprietizing” Moodle and this will likely continue even more. Fear: migrating out of the Bb/MR Moodle fork back into open Moodle may become increasingly difficult. Or will Bb share back as they purport to be committed to?
  • Bb is going to fold MoodleRooms into future Bb releases. Get out of MoodleRooms if you want Moodle. [This is NOT a common view but I did see it expressed somewhere.]

The future of the Moodlerooms service?

Other than the last couple points, the majority of these don’t see an immediate or even medium-term threat to the Moodlerooms service for current customers. I think the short-term bottom line is that Moodlerooms will continue to exist as it has, continuing to do what it does.

The longer-term key will be what Bb says over the next month or so. Bb’s pattern in the past with acquisitions (WebCT, Angel, Wimba, Elluminate) has been to initially reassure people that nothing will change in the immediate future (and that has been mostly true), as well as to describe some bland “synergies” both sides hope to get out of the deal (Bb has lots of tech resources, this new acquisition has a great service model Bb can learn from, etc.). Then, and I think Bb has been pretty transparent and accurate about this, they may describe their longer-term intentions to create a “best of breed” new product, and/or to support ongoing releases and then move towards a sunset of an acquired product. In this case, I don’t see any initial indications that Bb is going this route, but I’m not ready to go out on any limbs and predict that Moodlerooms will indefinitely serve our needs. But I do feel relatively confident that it will work for us for 2012-2013.

Free iPad apps useful in education

English: iPads offer a variety of software

Image via Wikipedia

I have a couple years’ experience messing with iPads, including leading an exploratory group of faculty and staff using iPads at SDSU. While iPads are an exceptional device for entertainment and content consumption, they also can be a very useful tool for curation, creation, and productivity. Having now acquired a couple iPads for faculty to experiment with here at MiraCosta, I decided to create a list of the free apps that we should include on the iPads we make available to our faculty.

My hope is that exploring these apps will help faculty form their own judgements about how iPads may help (or not) in the teaching and learning process, helping them to not only decide whether an iPad might have utility to them personally, but also to consider how students might effectively use iPads in the learning process.

Please share in the comments if you have thoughts about any of these apps, or which additional free apps you’d include in this list. Note: while I think many entertainment apps are also worth exploring to consider the educational possibilities (or hindrances), I have decided not to include any in this “starter” list. Note 2: This list is of course time-bound; while many of these apps will remain relevant for some time, many will fade as new apps and new built-in iPad capabilities emerge.


  • Evernote – My favorite cross-platform, cloud-based, all-around awesome note -taking/-making/-keeping/-finding tool.
  • Other free note apps that some faculty have liked include: uPad Lite,
  • Use Your Handwriting, Simplenote, and Paperdesk LITE
  • Dragon is not magical, but with some time can be useful for those who want to use a speech-to-text capture tool.
  • Mendeley – a citation manager, PDF organizer, literature research tool, and social network for researchers


  • Dropbox – My favorite cross-platform, cloud-based way to store/share/access files. Integrates well with a number of paid apps for working with PDFs, Office documents, etc.
  • Teamviewer – Access/control a desktop computer from the iPad
  • VMWare View – MiraCosta has a virtual desktop available via VMWare – access all your MiraCosta apps and PC-based programs on the iPad
  • Airsketch Free – While the “official” ways of connecting iPads to computers/projectors for greater visibility continue to grow, this app continues to offer a way that may be simplest for some.
  • ScanLife – If you want to use your iPad’s camera to scan QR or bar codes, this app will help.
  • Unstuck – Honestly haven’t tried yet but it has many enthusiastic reviews as a tool for nudging you in the right direction when you are feeling stuck.
  • Tools for language translation include iTranslate and Google Translate – Google allows voice input; both provide both text and spoken output.


Each of these have slightly different features and approaches to creating screencasts (narrated videos of content displayed/marked up/created on the iPad):


  • Free photo editing tools include PhotoPad and Photoshop Express
  • Flixlab – video editing and creation of slideshows from images
  • Skitch – image markup and sharing; integrates with Evernote


  • Popplet Lite – arrange images on a bulletin board-like canvas
  • Idea Sketch – simple mind mapping
  • Whiteboard Lite – doodle on the iPad, and if you like, collaboratively create with someone nearby who is on another iOS device with the app

Communication tools

  • Facebook & Twitter are of course, the dominant social media channels.
  • Storify – combine images, videos, & social media conversations into a cohesive narrative for reference and sharing
  • Skype – Make voice or video calls
  • Blackboard – access MiraCosta’s Bb course management system

Feed Readers

  • Flipboard – contains many feed sources to select from; can add other RSS feeds and personal accounts from Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, and other sources; all in an amazing interface for browsing
  • FeeddlerRSS – The most popular free, simple RSS reader iPad app

News sources

Many of these offer not only news browsing but also local information through location awareness, and push updates of “breaking news” if you are interested.


  • TED – videos of ~15 minute talks from leading thinkers and innovators on subjects usually related to technology and design
  • iTunesU – audio/video shared by educational institutions around the world
  • Exemplary free science apps with amazing, interactive imagery include: 3D Brain3D Medical ImagesMolecules
  • Google Earth – explore geography in amazing detail
  • Wikibot – a simple interface directly to Wikipedia


  • Inkling is worth a look to see one take on the future of interactive “textbooks” – you can download some free chapters.
  • Other eReaders worth exploring (in addition to the native iBooks) include Blio, Kobo, Google Play BooksNook, and Kindle
I look forward to hearing about more free apps that you think are worth including with these!

Presentation at DET/CHE 2011 on social media for professional growth

Quick links: DET/CHE 2011 prezi and associated resources

Last year, Kevin Kelly (SFSU), Otto Khera (USC), Derek Bruff (Vanderbilt), and I presented at DET/CHE 2010 on the big picture gap related to rapid cultural change, especially exemplified by social media, vs. slow educational change.

At DET/CHE 2011 I’m doing a brief session (prezi here) in which I hope to focus more on DET/CHE members as individuals and what we can do with social media to help close some of the gaps in our own minds/practices.

Much as I would like this to be an exhortation to learn to use the tools/ride the torrent sip from the firehose, rather I hope it is more an enticing invitation to join a party.

“connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.” – Stephen Downes

The work of constructing and traversing learning networks is not incidental to DET/CHE members’ professional lives. Our understanding of how and why to cultivate learning networks is critical to our position at the juncture of technology, learning, people development, and strategic leadership. Learning how to (a) build and use such networks for our own growth will help us in turn to (b) thoughtfully approach the development of learning networks for staff and faculty locally, which will help us to (c) provide leadership in working with faculty, staff, and students in networked learning environments.

Which comes first, constructing or traversing? You can traverse without constructing, but lurking/legitimate peripheral participation will only take you so far. Jump in and push past the “I don’t get it, this just seems lame” phase. Use established tools at first – don’t make your first forays into building personal learning networks be in an environment that people are still figuring out (beware Google social networking attempts, snazzy SecondLife-type things, walled garden nings and so on …).

See this google doc for a number of great resources on how-to and why-to for educators using Twitter and, to a much lesser extent, Facebook.

Admirable WordPress sites

I am looking forward to working with WordPress to build a new website for MiraCosta’s online education/ Teaching-Technology Innovation Center. Here are a few websites of instructional technology / teaching enhancement centers that are inspirational in what they’re doing with WordPress.

Do you have any others you’d recommend as exemplary?

How tasty is diigo?

About 9 months ago, when it was looking like delicious was just going to vaporize, I was quite panicked – I had been using it since the early days (I still type much more readily than and had several thousand bookmarks. But as it became clear that it was going to hang around, I put off switching over to diigo. Now that #potcert11 has a diigo group, though, it’s time for me to finally take the plunge.

Exporting my old bookmarks out of delicious and importing them to diigo was easy and quick. So far, things appear to be mostly intact at diigo. Some people do complain about diigo truncating long descriptions, but I don’t think that affected me much, since I’m kind of a minimalist when it comes to saving bookmarks (though maybe my 700+ different tags say different).

I am having a bit of a problem, though. I use Chrome on the Mac as my primary browser. I installed the diigo extension but when I try to bookmark, I get an endless attempt at “loading recommended tags“. I’d like to have the recommended tags available, but also this seems to block the area where normally I’d be able to share with a group (i.e. mccpot). Usually a little googling of this kind of problem gives me an answer, but in this case no luck. Anyone else encounter this issue? Any solutions/suggestions?