about my research

In my last post, I’ve mentioned that I am back to school, initially motivated by, and wanting to research, the Student as Producer as pedagogy; it showed the great promise in practice with Eduardo Jovel’s, Will Valley’s, and Judy Chan’s  courses at Faculty of Land and Food Systems.

The original thought was to do something along those lines, perhaps exploring the potential of Student as Producer in enabling “research-engaged” rather than “research-informed” teaching and learning. Very quickly though, I’ve realized that the Student as Producer and similar progressive pedagogies, or rather, philosophies that, in theory, should be a natural fit for publicly funded university are actually not fitting well at all to the current climate.

Whether it is the dearth of interest of senior administration or their inability to position it within current techno-pedagogical ecosystem, and consequent absence of promotional or professional development programs to inform and support faculty members, non-existence of learning technologies infrastructure and framework development roadmap for the open technologies, or intellectual property issues, it was clear that faculty  and educational technologists interested in Student as Producer and similar themes, are facing paralyzing lack of means to engage in something that seems relatively simple to implement,that is sustainable by its nature and well-aligned with university values.

“So…”, I thought, “perhaps I could analyze that”? To cut a long story short, I am now in the process of writing the proposal titled: Assessing Readiness for Open Education in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at the University of British Columbia. It seems quite a change of gears, and also quite a bit larger task,  going from one relatively narrow topic to exploring the meaning of and readiness for Open and its flavours within academia. But then, even a title is a work in progress though, and I am not certain if this is the final iteration. Assuming for a moment it is, here is what I plan to do:

  • Examine the notion of Open within in higher-ed and specifically with UBC.
    Research the existing literature and explore what is meant by Open in higher-ed, and across its different domains (teaching, learning, research, administration); focus on specifics of the University of  British Columbia and the Faculty of Land and Food Systems in particular by examining elements such as mission statement, vision, values and commitments  – looking for UBC’s pledge to Open at the highest level. That will be contrasted to the common teaching and learning practices  in order to assess whether commitments to openness and sharing actually made their way through to the teaching and learning at UBC
  • Inventory the types (i.e. Open Educational Resources, Open Research and Data…) of Open that are relevant for teaching, learning and research at the UBC/LFS. This is quite significant part of my research as it will help determine the scope of my research.
  • Inventory items (struggling with naming here – subtypes, samples, resources, products, representatives, items?) for each type of Open. For example, Open Educational Resources could be broken down into open textbooks, (arguably) MOOCs, blogs and wikis, etc..  
  • Create rubrics and run surveys/questionnaires/ focus groups to evaluate these Open subtypes, based on their functions and impact. Let’s take a UBC Wiki page as an example to see what some candidate rubrics could look like:
    • Creation/maintenance. I am looking here into who is involved in creation of the resource and how it is maintained over time (sustainability of the resource). For example, UBC Wiki pages are typically created and maintained by students in their courses, but could also be created by any other UBC single-sign-on account holder. This exclude anyone outside of UBC unless they have a sponsored account.
    • Consumption. Who is using this resource? UBC Wiki pages are open and visible to everyone. The primary audience are UBC students but they seem to be quite popular and seeked and accessed by other academics and learners, and general public. Many pages are seen tens of thousands times.
    • Other rubrics include how particular type affects student success; how much it contributes to public interest; does it build towards university’s recognition and promotion efforts.
  • Creation of the Readiness Assessment Tool. I am planning to design a tool  based on Bates’ and Sangra’s Criteria for Assessing the Success or Otherwise of Technology Integration and run surveys/questionnaires/focus groups to evaluate factors impacting readiness for open.  Here are some early candidates/groups to be surveyed:
    • UBC’s senior leadership – questions around their perception of and interest in Open; also, resulting strategy and budget. This is going to be an interesting one – is your favourite Open thingy hot or not? We know that levels of local “hotness” are quite aligned with what is hot topic at the current Educasue conference.
    • University IT ’s and LT’s (Learning Technology) leadership readiness to create and support technological framework that enables Open.
    • Policies towards intellectual property and licensing
    • Professional development programs and faculty support to engage in Open.
  • Analyze data and try to answer the question: “How ready is the university to engage in Open Education”?

 

my thesis, opened.

For those who didn’t know, I’ve been back in school for a few years now, in the Integrated Studies in Land and Food Systems, mentored by Eduardo Jovel. It started around my interest in Student as Producer, combined with Eduardo’s exciting work in experiential learning. I feel fortunate to work with my committee members: Jon Beasley-Murray, Maja Krzic, Will Valley and Christina Hendricks who has just agreed to join. I also feel very lucky for having a chance to communicate and get support from such greats like: Tony Bates, Will Engle, Brian LambGeorge Veletsianos and Joss Winn, among others.

Last year I switched from MSc to PhD program and all of the sudden everything looks quite a bit bigger and more complex . These days, I am trying to wrap up my proposal – work involving literature review (haven’t found much directly relevant stuff), figuring out exactly what the scope is, and making a timeline. While a lot of this is still unclear, one thing is crystallizing (discussed with and stimulated by Christina Hendricks): I’d like to expose my way through this work and make this blog a useful tool in organizing and communicating my thoughts and ideas, seeking feedback and documenting progress. And how could I not, as my research, among other things, explores the notion of open in higher-ed.

My relationship with publishing online has been quite long, intermittent  and it took various forms. I’ve been restarting my blog many times in last 10 years and published perhaps a handful of posts of some interest to my fellow educational technologists. For whatever reason I never warmed up to Twitter but I do use Facebook occasionally. My photography, on the other hand, expressed through my Flickr account, fared quite a bit better resulting in at least two book covers, numerous other photos used on websites and other promotional materials. So with a mixed record, I am looking forward to exploring open in open!

 

One More on Generalists

A few days ago, I wrote about the problems with breaking coherent web platforms down to delivering only a specialized kind of content. The kind of attitude that knowledge shall be brought to you by Blackboard, while your marketing website is okay to run on Drupal or WordPress. When technologies are siloed, we not only isolate the teams who end up only managing a specific platform for its specific function (teaching and learning, marketing or research…), but we also exclude many potential audiences from finding out or learning more about the topic.

How little do we know! Here is a question for you: is thischangedmypractice.com (TCMP) a research, marketing, teaching and learning website or professional development tool? I would argue it is all of the above! It is written by medical practitioners, discusses various health issues in an open environment, and contributes to the general public’s knowledge and understanding of those issues. Four out of six UBC values are covered here: Advancing and Sharing Knowledge, Public Interest (open blog, written in popular format); Excellence, Integrity, (done by medical experts): check, check, check, check!

It all looks good, but there is a catch: it is very uncertain whether there would be such a buy-in from busy doctors if there were nothing in return. No free lunch, as usual: upon publishing in TCMP, contributors to the site get study credits from the College of Family Physicians of Canada – the body that regulates licenses of medical doctors in Canada.
In my mind, this creates a great symbiosis of sustainable approach to promoting and sharing knowledge with the doctors’ need to keep their professional license! This model (along with many possible variations) is something that should come naturally to the university; the multipurpose, integrated approach should be the standard and not the notable exception to common practices of creating sites that are designed to deliver to one audience only.

It is a great marketing website as well – it has thousands of subscribers, it created quite a buzz in the medical community, it shows up high in Google searches. By driving a lot of traffic to UBC, it promotes the University’s work, excellence, impact and value to the community… and attracts potential students!

The best possible marketing for the university is the work of its people – so let’s make more of that visible. By doing so, we are also helping faculty, staff, and students promote their work and build portfolios and future careers. We are contributing to the public domain and sharing knowledge that would otherwise stay locked behind the secure doors of a closed LMS and then erased at the term’s end.

So, the university’s key engagements – teaching, learning, research, creation, and also, its practical need for marketing and promotion – should all happily cohabitate to deliver on the university’s key values – to connect to the community, make an impact on the local and global scale, etc.

And this is where we go back to our generalist story – generalists are not paralysed by too narrow of job description; with their many different skills are able to draw subtle connections between marketing and research, learning and networking. They can design balanced interfaces, and continually deepen and enrich the interactions around knowledge that is created, nurtured and shared in open, and provide a fantastic opportunity for the university to (besides saving tons of money on waste) promote itself in a more meaningful and community-oriented way, reinvent itself and at least try to find its niche in the new rich online landscape that seems to be reshaping fast and getting ahead of us at an accelerated rate.

Generalists vs. the Army of Waste

In many larger organizations, there is often a push to put things in a certain “order” that administration (non-educators and non-developers) is comfortable with. In the case of higher-ed, especially with its large, cubicle-seated, vertically organized groups, there is a strong trend to divide technology into The student learning management system (LMS) that covers “all” students’ teaching and learning needs, and into The content management system (CMS) that, managed by marketing people, is meant for “administrative” websites. And, of course, research is under a separate VP and thus needs to have its own systems and staff. And so on, for all the lovely silos. The more broken down, the merrier; this system creates more bureaucracy, more reporting and analysis. It is disconnected both from within itself and from its users, so it requires more staff to keep it going, more managers and more analysts.

This approach is a very typical and also very wrong one, as the expertise and resources needed to run and support, let’s say CMS (seen as “administrative” or “marketing” tool, though some of the best research or teaching and learning websites are built using UBC  CMS), are identical to those of an open publishing framework for teaching and learning (such as blog or wiki platforms) and shouldn’t be separated – one general, flexible and robust platform is capable of responding to most web needs. To further complicate things, in the administration’s desire to do things “properly” (like mid-’70s-IT properly) we are introducing too many flavours of unnecessary overhead or waste (Lean terminology), known as learning or web strategists (my title actually, though I wear few other hats), project managers, business analysts, faculty liaisons and many other fancy names.

We work (teach, design, code…) in the environment of rapid and constant change (perpetual beta) and by building so many layers between the faculty member who wants to experiment and embrace change, and the developer who wants to give, hack and create change, we are actually killing the experiment and killing the change itself.  We kill creativity and innovation, while we are supposed to support it. By stripping down web developers to the role of only coding whatever project manager or business analyst requires (and because managers and analysts are not creators and producers, they are not in business of inventing, hacking, dreaming and designing), we kill the much needed seeds of agility and entrepreneurship and we leave very little room for linchpins in us, with hard and practical skills.

That’s the shame, because the best of Web2.0 is telling us that we need to simplify things, not over-plan or over-analyse. Hear the idea, build, measure, learn. That’s why instead of many unnecessary roles, we need developers to be more of the generalists (Scott, thanks for this find) – for typical web company that’s the person that does information architecture, UX, coding front-end, back-end, db, scaling, bit of design; at the university, it is all of that plus bit of pedagogy and learning design. Not a biggy, few months of the right exposure for a reasonably intelligent individual.

a glance back

Enej, Will and I have been presenting at the Vancouver WordCamp and then during UBC’s Open Access week and somehow in both presentations we were going back through the history of UBC’s Open Learning Platform (the pilot and non-approved name for UBC Blogs, Wiki, CMS and related apps).

I’ve realized that I don’t really have a documented overview on how we got here, and even worse – what is the current state of the platform and plans for the future.

So, I have quickly put together basic wiki page (see it embeded below) on some (definitely not all) milestones of historic development of our platform. Hopefully, we will work on this page and also add more granular pages on specific and important points and decisions.

2004-2008

  • MovableType based blogs, number of websites running on various technologies

2008

  • WordPress based, Campus Wide Login (CWL) enabled blogs.ubc.ca launched, over 700 users/blogs migrated from MovableType
  • Common Look and Feel (CLF) introduced by UBC Public Affairs
  • MediaWiki gets CWL and CLF treatment and becomes UBC Wiki - wiki.ubc.ca

2009

  • CWL enabled sites.olt.ubc.ca for hosting websites
  • Around 20 websites on the server by the end of 2009

2010

  • UBC blogs gets new social homepage and social (buddypress) network
  • CTLT and PA partner and sites.olt.ubc.ca becomes UBC CMS and inherits PA’s cms.ubc.ca
  • Minimal WordPress Hybrid theme becomes the parent theme for most of CMS websites

2010-2012

  • over 10,000 blogs and over 500 active, domain-mapped websites. Over 15,000 users of which over 12,000 students.
  • Continual improvement of our platform - the main developments:
    • Solid back-end: partitioned mySQL to 256 databases; Both blogs and CMS have load balancer in front of 4 app servers and master/slave db servers.
    • Extending our UBC CLF theme - almost all sites run on this theme - see manual
    • Writing plugins to support UBC community, under CC license, over 200k downloads from Wordpress.org only!
    • Established great user community through monthly larger clients' meetings, end users' support through open web clinics twice a week, community based UBC wiki documentation
source: http://wiki.ubc.ca/Documentation:The_History_of_Open_Learning_Platform_at_UBC

 

2011-06-10

Met with Vincent Kujala from Geography – they are learning about our CMS/blogs/wiki framework, and how it could help fill their needs. The project that brought their attention to us is www.watergovernance.ca.

Got a call from MedIT, letting me know that ehealth.med.ubc.ca is live. It looks great, fine work by MedIT!

Friday is a good day because we have our Idea Lab session where we use couple of hours to experiment with different ideas and present cool things that we’ve learned during the previous week. Some great products that we all enjoy daily are the result of similar approach: like Google News or Gmail. We do not have such ambitions but the concept already pay dividends – from UBC CMS mobile layer to couple of cool ideas in the pipe.

Today, I presented one that I will need more time than I have now to share here, but I’ll say that it is about fund-raising and very much based on the requests of many.

Will Engle came up with an idea of creating the crowd-sourcing UBC website. We’ve discussed the potential  – it seems this could be the way for anyone (students, initiatives, units) who has the need, ideas and or project plan but lacks knowledge, support or volunteers to get UBC’s crowd response – volunteering or expertise or why not, funding.

This could also be very helpful way to connect UBC with external communities in need.

Go Canucks, go (game 5 starting very soon)!

2011-06-09

morning:

Enej and Michael were figuring out the ways to improve code repository workflow. Exactly the conversation I do not enjoy, but find fascinating that they can be so engaged in to that stuff. You have to admit to yourself that you cannot have an opinion on everything every time. Perhaps on most things most of the time.

Looking for a student to help with some house-cleaning issues over the summer. The person has to love to create, enjoy arts, play instrument and be kind-hearted. And enjoy coding. All the competencies I care about.

Worked with Anne-Rae Vasquez on ideas how to transition few hundred projects from BaseCamp to ActiveCollab. Wondering if we throw CWL in front of it, would it make it THE campus’ project management tool? Seems robust enough and people love it. What’s the point of running the small install for one office if it takes (almost) the same amount of effort to have it available campus-wide? That’s how UBC Blogs, Wiki and CMS happened.

Enej and I met with Ryan Wong at the clinic today and we have worked on the course supported by Natasha Boskic. The goal is to create a course environment that resembles the evoke site in certain features.

Students will rate each others’ work and collect points that will make a part of their grade.

Number of fun challenges, it looks like we will be using CubePoints and VoteItUp plugins. The course will be closed but we will share the development and after it goes live the students’ and instructor’s feedback. It could be an interesting model for student interaction and creative take on peer evaluation.

At the clinic today we had an internal CTLT client, – Zack was working on Wiki resources for CTLT Institute and also Lina, Will, Michael and Enej helped design@UBC and  Global Help Research Program sites development.