What A Little Bird Told Me: AACE on Twitter

Since last fall, AACE has been working on implementing a comprehensive social media strategy that involves regular postings on the AACE blog, Facebook and Twitter channels. We want to leverage social media to foster communication among the AACE conference attendees, authors, presenters, special interest groups, and organizing committees. The goal is to create engagement that seamlessly reaches the community not only through conference announcements, but also through news, reflections, conversations, debates, trends and reports. We are now starting to see first results of this effort.


Twitter Data @AACE December 2014 - October 2015

Twitter Data @AACE December 2014 - October 2015

Using tools such as Twitter Analytics and Twitter Counter, we are monitoring our activity and the resulting community engagement. Let's take a look at some data highlights (December 2014 to October 2015):
  • Monthly impressions have doubled.
  • Profile visits and mentions have tripled.
  • @AACE gained 240 new followers.
  • Engagement rates (retweets and likes) have tripled.
Monthly Impressions @AACE December 2014 - October 2015

Monthly Impressions @AACE December 2014 - October 2015

Content That Resonates

For an educational organization such as AACE, the return of investment of social media activities is not merely measured in quantitative gains. Much rather, the channel is designed to compile information on a variety of edtech topics and, thereby, offer a focal point for informal learning activities. Therefore, we are most interested in how others interact with the content we provide and how they assess its usefulness. So far, we received promising feedback, for instance, AACE was mentioned among top e-learning and edtech organizations to follow on Twitter by @CapterraLMS. Periodically, we check which tweets create engagement and use this data to inform our content development efforts. The word cloud below visualizes the topics that most resonated with our community.
Word Cloud of Top 50 Tweets 2015

Word Cloud of Top 50 Tweets 2015, generated with taxedo

Top 10 Blog Postings on Twitter

The following blog postings received the most attention on Twitter and via AddThis (impact score in brackets).
  1. Top 20 in Educational Technology to Connect with through Social Media (177)
  2. Que sera, sera? Predicting Future Trends in Educational Technology ? Horizon Report 2015 (138)
  3. How Faculty Adapt their Practices to Teach Online ? An Interview with Donna Murdoch (84)
  4. Is It Possible to Learn Anything Online? A Student?s Perspective (79)
  5. Learning from Video Games: An Interview with Best Paper Award Winner Eddie Gose (68)
  6. Let's Talk About Flipping: An Interview With Matt Osment (39)
  7. What Can Educational Researchers Do to Make Their Studies Replicable? (38)
  8. My Personal Top 5 Tools for Teaching and Learning (37)
  9. Adventure Learning ? Wearable and Mobile Devices: An Interview with Mary Beth Klinger (37)
  10. Informal Learning: New Challenges for Designers and Educators (35)

Further Information From EditLib

This posting introduced different tools and metrics educational organizations can leverage to understand the impact of their Twitter channel. Are you interested in how you can use Twitter in education? Take a look at these open access papers from the EditLib digital library.

Donmez, F.I., Odabasi, H.F. & Erol, O. (2012). Twitter for Collaborative Professional Development. In P. Resta (Ed.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2012 (p. 3594). Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

Kanjanapongpaisal, P., Rogers, S. & Bryan, W. (2012). Twitter Usage in Higher Education. In T. Amiel & B. Wilson (Eds.), Proceedings of EdMedia: World Conference on Educational Media and Technology 2012 (pp. 2145-2150). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

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Digital Literacy: An Interview with Doug Belshaw

Twenty-first century life is fueled by information technology facilitating our actions and communication. Recognizing technology's usefulness as well as its limitations, technical skills related to varied forms of information technology use have become necessary competencies for citizenry, success in reaching educational goals and participation in the workforce. We all need to be digital literate – but are we clear what this means?
Doug Belshaw: ‘Literacy is a condition, a way of being, not a threshold or a bar to cross’ (Image by Travis Miller).

Doug Belshaw: ‘Literacy is a condition, a way of being, not a threshold or a bar to cross’ (Image by Travis Miller, flickr creative commons).

Digital literacy is still an evolving concept. In many policy settings, digital literacy is used synonymous to the proficient handling of information and communication technology, demonstrated through the performance of specific tasks, such as using email, search engines, participating in online communities, or handling different computer programs like word processing or spreadsheet software. In this sense, digital literacy is closely related to, and often used interchangeably with, computer literacy and ICT literacy. Other definitions center on retrieval and critical reflection and conceptualize digital literacy as the ability to understand and to critically evaluate different aspects of digital media content and the digital media landscape. In these contexts, digital literacy is likely to be subsumed under the umbrella of media literacy or information literacy.

From the variety of aspects that can be subsumed under and connected to the concept of digital literacy, it becomes clear that it is not a binary concept or an absolute term. Instead, it exists on a continuum. People can be more or less digital literate, and furthermore exhibit individual differences in their aptitude and proficiency regarding different aspects of digital literacy such as basic use of ICT tools, effective retrieval and evaluation of content, creative production of digital text and audio visual media, and the responsible participation in online communities and social networks. Given the oscillating nature of the concept, some researchers choose to deploy the plural and speak of digital literacies.

Digital literacy does not evolve or exist in a vacuum, but is aligned with the educational system, social and political parameters and cultural values. In his seminal book 'The Essentials of Digital Literacies', Doug Belshaw identified eight core elements, namely cultural, cognitive, constructive, communicative, confident, creative, critical, and civic. In our interview he talks about what fuels his interest in literacy, what he thinks about the state of digital literacy, and the role of education in shaping our use of digital technology.

Your research focus on digital literacies began with your dissertation – which you titled ‘the never ending thesis’. What first drew your attention to the concept of literacy?

I kind of stumbled into my thesis by accident, actually. After doing my MA in Modern History and starting to teach, I was really interested in the difference between 19th century and 21st century education systems. The key question for me with my History dissertation centered around “what did it mean to be educated in the 19th century?” As you can imagine, there was a lot of disagreement.

I realized that we were still having the same debate in the 21st century, partly because the landscape had changed again. It seemed that the difference was technological. So the start of my doctoral research was trying to figure out what ‘digital literacy’ might look like given there wasn’t much agreement in the field.

Many people cannot get far away enough from their PhD research topic, what keeps fascinating you about literacy?

I can understand that! Like many people finishing a large piece of research, I vowed never to read a book again. My father lured me back in through Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series.

But, seriously, I’m fascinated by the ever-changing way literacy changes as we learn to read, write, and participate in communities. Following my work on digital literacies I worked on web literacy for Mozilla. Figuring out the practices and habits of mind we need to interact and make meaning online is important.

Is digital literacy ever changing with every new technology or gadget that enters the market or is it a stable set of competencies?

I think that these days I’d answer this question by saying that there are mindsets and there are skillsets. While the skillsets may change over time, the mindsets - ways we approach and conceptualize technologies - are relatively stable. To use a basic example, the combination of keys or the touchscreen swipe it takes to ‘undo’ something in a digital environment may change across platforms. But the fact remains that, unlike in the physical world, we can ‘undo’ things in digital environments. That’s conceptual thing that can take some getting used to.

Can you give a brief overview of the 8 Cs of digital literacy?

In my thesis I talk of ‘eight essential elements of digital literacies’. I’m grateful to those educational institutions, businesses, and researchers who have subsequently refined and applied these. One such person is Ted Parker who divided the eight elements into four skillsets and four mindsets. The skillsets are: Cultural, Creative, Constructive, and Communicative. The mindsets are: Confident, Cognitive, Critical, and Civic. I go into more detail into each one in my thesis and ebook – this would turn into a very long blog post if I went into them here!

How did you develop this framework?

The initial aim of my thesis was actually to come up with one definition of digital literacy to rule them all. I soon realized that this was a futile task given that greater minds than mine had tried and failed. Instead, I realized that literacies are context-dependent, and therefore tried to look at the really central parts of digital literacies referred to by researchers. I did a large meta-analysis and found that these eight elements came up time and time again.

How can practitioners and researchers use it?

Literacy is a powerful weapon, and therefore defining what counts as it takes care and attention. I’d encourage practitioners and researchers to co-create definitions of the essential elements for their particular context. Then, if necessary, they can create an overarching definition that takes everyone’s views into account in a particular context.

Should we use the term digital literacy or digital literacies?

My strong preference is to use the plural: digital literacies. I think that we’re not talking about a single skillset or single mindset here. In fact, I don’t believe ‘digital’ is a particularly useful modifier to ‘literacy’. It’s unproductively ambiguous. But if we have to use the term, let’s talk about literacies in plural, to show that it’s a contested landscape and there’s multiple areas to focus upon.

Computer literacy, media literacy, ICT literacy, digital literacy: The same, similar or different?

I think that this is an example of practitioners and researchers fighting over what I call ‘umbrella terms’. Ultimately, it’s futile. In the research I’ve read, people tend to assume that their favored term includes every other term. So, for example, researchers in the field of media literacy would say that it includes ICT literacy, digital literacy, computer literacy, etc. And the same goes for those in the other fields.

What is your most important message that people should take away from your book?

I’d say three things, actually: that digital literacies are plural, context-dependent, and should be co-created. People should feel empowered to create their own definitions and perhaps remix other people’s work, instead of being unduly deferential to well-known, big-name practitioners and researchers.

How digitally literate are you yourself?

That’s a difficult question to answer as literacies are ever-changing. I guess I would say I’m highly literate in specialized domains. However, I try to keep mixing things up so that while I’m an ‘expert’ in some things, I’m a ‘novice’ in others. After all, literacy is a condition, a way of being, not a threshold or a bar to cross.

What important research areas do you see in the future of digital literacy?

I’m not sure about ‘important’ as that involves a value judgment, but I’m personally very interested in the ethical dimensions of digital literacies. For example, the Snowden revelations around privacy and security are still having repercussions. Also, as we move into more of a virtual/blended reality we need to decide on new cultural norms and ways of beings. When we encode these so we can pass them on, these turn into literacies.

About Doug Belshaw

doug-belshaw-2014-500pxDr. Doug Belshaw is lead consultant at Dynamic Skillset with his main interests being around education, technology and productivity. Doug has been a History teacher and school senior leader, as well as working in universities and with further education providers. Most recently he was Badges & Skills Lead (then Web Literacy Lead) for the non-profit Mozilla Foundation.



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Designing Assessment

Assessment plays a vital role in delivering, evaluating, monitoring, improving and shaping learning experiences on the Web, at the desk and in the classroom. In the process of orchestrating educational technologies instructional designers are often confronted with the challenge of designing or deploying creative and authentic assessment techniques. assessment Fostered by the rise of constructivist learning theory, authentic assessment, a.k.a. performance assessment as well as connected approaches and tools –such as rubrics, portfolios and competency-based learning outcomes –have been discussed in educational research since the mid-nineties. This paradigm shift from ‘assessment of learning’ towards ‘assessment for learning’ plays an important role for changing from input to output orientation of teaching and learning and support students’ critical thinking abilities. Instead of assessing how well students can reproduce knowledge imparted by the instructor (input), the focus shifts to the competencies students can apply (output).

How can instructional designers create activities that are meaningful, contextualized and connected to real-world problems? Though there is no alchemistic formula, it is important to understand that authenticity is a continuum. Gulikers, Bastiaens & Kirschner (2004) distinguish five dimensions of authentic assessment: (a) the task, (b) the physical context, (c) the social context, (d) the results, and (e) the criteria. Each dimension forms a continuum, which means that authenticity is not an all or nothing trait. Furthermore, authenticity is a subjective measure. The perception of what authenticity is may vary among individuals as a result of educational level, personal interest, or amount of professional experience (Gulikers, Bastiaens & Kirschner, 2004).

Often times, when we talk about ‘authentic assessment’ in the instructional design process, we really mean creative assessment. We are looking for techniques that are engaging, surprising, puzzling, challenging, unexpected or different. This can happen in many ways – creating a mindmap, producing a comic strip, developing an information graphic, creating a game. It does not necessarily mean to be as close as possible to the ‘real world’.

A great way to frame assessment in the disciplines are threshold concepts. The idea of threshold concepts emerged from a UK national research project into the possible characteristics of strong teaching and learning environments in the disciplines for undergraduate education. Meyer and Land (2005) characterize threshold concepts with the following qualities: transformative (significant shift in the perception of a subject), integrative (exposing the previously hidden interrelatedness of something), oftentimes bounded (demarcating academic territories), probably irreversible (unlikely to be forgotten, or unlearned only through considerable effort) and potentially troublesome (often problematic for learners, because the concept appears counter-intuitive, alien, or incoherent). threshold Disciplines have ‘conceptual gateways’ or ‘portals’ that lead to a previously inaccessible way of thinking in a process of liminal transition - these are ‘threshold concepts’. An example from the social sciences is that ‘you cannot make causal inferences from correlational data’. Mastering a threshold concept puts learners in a liminal state where they oscillate between old and emergent understandings - just like an ethnographic researcher who not outside, but also not quite inside the group. So one way to think about assessment is to identify the threshold concepts in the domain you are working on and coming up with creative ways to help learners traverse these portals. Threshold concepts allow instructional designers to support assessment for learning. This type of assessment encourages students to question their preconceptions and evaluate their grasp of crucial concepts in their discipline. Within an organization, assessment for learning confronts stakeholders with their preconceived notions of organizational issues or initiatives, and fosters the shared understanding of problem scope as well as crucial components that are difficult to conceptualize.

Authentic and creative assessment is not only a goal for classroom and online learning, but also for other types of assessment that fall in the domain of instructional design such as organizational improvement or the evaluation of educational technologies and techniques.

Across domains, we feel tensions between measure and treasure. What we measure through standardized tests and metrics is not necessarily what we treasure. Vice versa, what we really care about, we oftentimes cannot operationalize. For individual learning, there is a growing dissatisfaction with standardized test scores. On the organizational level, we hear criticism about program rankings and the prevalence of the social science citation index. In educational technology research, we see the limitations of the experimental paradigm.

Educational technologies can support creative processes and offer connections to authentic contexts, just as well as they can curtail creativity and foster standardized testing routines. Once we start taking individual strengths and skills into account instead of filing students – or organizations – through standardized routines, the assessment becomes a part of the learning process, not an end in itself.

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My Personal Top 5 Tools for Teaching and Learning

Jane Hart has recently published her 2015 list of the 100 most popular tools for teaching and learning. For the past nine years, Hart generates this list annually by surveying professionals in instructional design and educational technology. As in previous years, social media and Web 2.0 tools dominate the collection, with Twitter being the number one choice. For instructional designers and educational technology researchers alike, Hart’s list is a useful resource to see what people in the field are using and to discover new tools and gadgets. It is also an opportunity to reflect upon one's own personal learning environment. Everyone has individual approaches, needs and preferences when it comes to teaching and learning tools. In my role as an instructional analyst at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I use and encounter a broad variety of products, tools and services. The infrastructures listed below either influence my everyday work or have the potential to be significant game changer in my work environment.


In 2012, I had the opportunity to create an interactive publication on local government in North Carolina with the open source authoring tool Xerte. I was impressed by the multimedia authoring templates, the emphasis on accessibility and user choice in formatting and display, the sophisticated player, and the extremely helpful community that supported the tool. Since then, application has become completely web-based, extremely easy to use, and mobile-friendly. If you are looking for a flexible content development tool, I encourage you to give it a try by visiting the Xerte community.


WordPress, in particular multi-sites, is a great, easy to use infrastructure for personal blogs, group blogs, and e-portfolios. As an example, we use the WordPress multisite web.unc.edu in the Carolina MPA program for student e-portfolios. At the end of the program students take a portfolio class and compile a collection of learning products that reflect their personal growth and competence profile. While there are specialized e-portfolio tools, I like the ease of use of the WordPress environment as well as the ability to export all material. This allows students to get familiar with the commonly used content management system and potentially to reuse their editing skills as well as their portfolio content. Sample Student Portfolio Page


I like to use the content management system Drupal for building websites that reflect complex information architectures. What makes Drupal particularly powerful as an infrastructure for knowledge management and sophisticated information retrieval, is the easy way to create and display tailored content types. We have used this approach in a recent website redesign process for UNC School of Government. Here, different content types allow to search specifically for courses, publications or other resources, and to connect each resource with the author or faculty member.

Legos, Glue, Wood, Play-Doh, Pen & Paper

Being an instructional designer means carefully orchestrating learning situations for individuals and groups. More often than not, I find it advisable to step away from the computer screen and think outside the box of electronic devices. When we talk about the importance of tactile, sensual activities, with, for instance, paper, glue, wood, felt, Play-Doh, or Legos we often think about the K-12 classroom, or even more narrowly, the preschool environment. However, I find that working with adult learners, who spend most of their days glued to a screen, having activities that are surprising and different can create a great learning atmosphere and facilitate decision-making. As an example, I oftentimes have the challenge to discuss the navigation and structure of websites with non-technical users. I have designed an activity with Lego building blocks to visualize and communicate structural components of the website. Activity: Website Structure with Building Blocks


Over the past few years, I have shepherded and increasing the amount of e-book and e-publishing projects. While there is no magic silver bullet that enables you to turn Microsoft word documents into appealing and functional websites, e-books and PDF documents without any additional effort, the technology of e-publishing has recently advanced. PressBooks is an open source, online publishing tool to support the publishing process of multiple formats at the same time, rendering production more streamlined and efficient. As an open source product, it can be completely customized to clients needs. The main advantage of PressBooks is producing output in many different, relevant formats from one single source. As you transfer a manuscript from Microsoft Word into the PressBooks environment, you can check formatting and layout and, once satisfied, publish in one single step the book as a website, as an e-book that works for iPad or android (EPUB), as an e-book version that is optimized for the Kindle or Kindle fire (MOBI) and as a PDF document for clients who prefer a more traditional approach or want to print sections.

Over To You

What are your favorite tools for teaching and learning? What do you think about my selection? Are you a developer who thinks the AACE community should know about your product? Leave us a comment, here on the blog, via Twitter or on Facebook.
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Help, I Need Somebody – Okay, Google? Help Seeking Offline and Online

online1Online help seeking is ingrained in our daily information behaviour. For the generation ‘Okay Google’ the answer to any question seems to be just one Web search away. However, help seeking is not effortless, but a skill that requires cognitive, metacognitive and social capacities. In the past three decades, researchers have scrutinized the process of face-to-face help seeking in classroom settings from many different angles. The research, to a great extent, investigated two main questions: (a) How do students seek help in classroom contexts, and (b) What factors influence face-to-face help seeking. The influential descriptive model of Nelson-LeGall (1981) comprises five steps:
  1. Become aware of need for help.
  2. Decide to seek help.
  3. Identify potential helpers.
  4. Elicit help.
  5. Evaluate received help.
First, the learner has to realize that she or he needs assistance to overcome difficulties. Second, the learner has to decide whether to seek help or exhaust all available information. Third, once  he or she has decided to seek help, the learner has to find potential helpers. Fourth, the learner needs to approach potential helpers and request their help. Fifth, the learner needs to assess whether the help was useful in problem solving and determine whether or not more help is needed. online2Research on factors influencing help seeking revealed possible challenges along the way. Being or becoming aware that one needs help takes major metacognitive efforts, including evaluation and self-assessment. The decision to seek help is influenced by concerns of being labelled as incompetent. Eliciting help requires learners to be strategic about inquiries and have basic communication skills. Online environments are much more ubiquitous and open than classroom contexts, which give learners opportunities to take advantage of abundant resources on the Internet and to seek help from experts around the globe. Most importantly, online help seeking requires intensive cognitive efforts in raising questions or forming queries. Human helpers are highly adaptive to the needs of learners in face-to-face contexts: They can figure out what is going on even if the learners are not clear about their problems, or cannot organize their statements to give an unambiguous question. Therefore, traditionally, few researchers looked into how learners raise questions. Search engines on the other hand have very limited adaptivity, so ambiguous questions can hardly be answered. Similarly, people in online communities often lack context information and situational cues to figure out what the help seeker actually means. Therefore, learners usually need to segment big problems into subproblems with specific goals, decontextualize the subproblems for people who have little background knowledge, and convert the problems to either specific questions or queries. In other words, effective online help seeking requires logical thinking, discourse skills, knowledge of search engines and strong problem-solving skills. Unfortunately, learners may not be aware that they need to organize their thinking, or activate their discourse skills to form questions for inquiry, because the solution is apparently only one mouse click away. The challenges students face in online help seeking are new and need deliberate training. Investigating students’ online help seeking behavior and design effective trainings to foster this skill is an important prerequisite of both formal and informal learning online.
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Patterns Everywhere? An Interview with Christian Kohls

Design patterns have become popular in the domains of architecture, software design, human computer interaction, Web 2.0, organizational structures, and pedagogy as a way to communicate successful practical knowledge. Patterns capture proven solutions for recurrent problems with respect to fitting contexts. Practitioners and researchers alike have been adopting the pattern approach to document their work, communicate results, facilitate discourses between experts and nonspecialists, formulate new questions and standardize approaches.

Christian Kohls has authored several books about patterns, co-organized international conferences (PLOP, EuroPLOP), and published numerous articles on the practical use and epistemological origin of patterns. In the interview we talk about patterns in e-learning, teaching, instructional design and EdTech research.


"What’s the secret of a good chef? He knows basic recipes and ingredients to prepare a million different meals by combining these. That's how patterns work". (Image Source: Nicole Abalde, Flickr Commons)

In a nutshell, what are patterns and how can instructional designers use them?

Patterns are a specific way to capture best practices, such as e-learning methods, assessment types, media formats, forms of collaboration etc. What makes them special is that they are on a mid-level of abstraction offering both practical guidance and theoretical justification. A pattern is a specific solution which instructional designer can reuse and adopt to specific needs. The pattern description explains why, when, and how the solution can be applied.

What are the most relevant patterns in the field of e-learning?

The most relevant e-learning patterns are about educational videos and social learning. A lot of video material is produced at the moment but it’s not always appropriate. Everyone can produce videos today but not all of them are effective and efficient. This is a typical example where the elaborate description format of patterns can help instructional designers: choose the right format (when to use a lecture recording, a webinar, a screencast, or a commons craft style animation), adopt the content accordingly, and make a professional production with limited resources.

Social learning is very often student-initiated. However, instructional designers have to think about when and how to integrate these learning activities into the course design: how can we stimulate online collaboration and learning communities? How can learning analytics be used to improve the course design? How can we support and protect students and offer them an open space for experimentation and new ideas? These patterns are just emerging. While there are many opportunities there are also many drawbacks (such as high drop-out rates or a digital divide). That’s another important thing about patterns: they do not only highlight the beneficial aspects but the negative consequences as well.

As a professor, you are teaching software programming and computational science classes. Do you use patterns in the classroom?

Yes, of course! I do that in several ways. Patterns are a very well established approach in software design. So I am teaching these technical patterns to my students.

I am also using educational patterns for planning my courses. That includes patterns for assessment driven course design, the use of audience response systems and digital whiteboards, and the production of screencasts for my entire lecture on object oriented programming. Patterns help me to reflect about my own instructional design. Instead of just recoding my live lecture I produced and edited screencasts with similar content. This was quite a time investment but allowed me to have more student interaction in the lecture hall and use many different media types. Having pattern-oriented mind lets you weigh the pros and cons of each solution in a systematic way.

Most exciting for me, however, are my courses on e-learning patterns where I ask students to write their own patterns based on their experiences.

Do you have some general advice for integrating patterns in teaching?

Teachers can use patterns as inspiration and to detect problems they were not even aware of having. Both the problem and the solution part of a pattern description are very important. The solution part is obvious: it provides guidance to good designs and it can help instructional designers without prescribing scripted steps. Yet the problem statement is just as important because it can serve as some sort of a wake-up call. It is one thing to address problems you are aware of: you can find your own solution or use well-known patterns. But if you are not even aware of the problem you will never solve it.

How do your students respond to patterns?

Oh, they like them as solutions. That’s especially true for the software patterns since they provide good design tricks and release some of the burden of finding a robust and flexible architecture when programming. When it comes to students writing their own patterns, this is a different matter. The pattern format is very strict and it requires that the student reflect about his or her own practices. Sometimes we do certain activities naturally, such as forming learning groups online. One can easily identify this as a best practice. However, it is much harder to explain why and when this is more effective than learning alone. They need to find evidence that this is not just a subjective feeling, they need to find examples and counter-examples, etc. Pattern writing is quite difficult for students, but it offers many learning moments.

What is the best way to get involved with patterns?

Finding patterns in the world is the most natural thing every person does. Without pattern recognition we wouldn’t be able to identify other persons, social behavior, or even scientific laws. We have patterns in our heads! What the pattern community does is to search for patterns in successful designs. There are several pattern conferences around the world (PLoP conferenes) and the community is very open to newcomers. If you have some best practices in mind: just start writing a pattern today. You can find several starter kits for writing patterns on the websites of the pattern community (http://europlop.net/content/start-writing). Writing your own patterns is already an exciting experience. Once you have your first draft ready, don’t hesitate to submit it to one of the pattern conferences. Each submission will go through a mentoring process (“shepherding”) and you will get constructive feedback in Writers’ Workshops at the conferences.


Prof. Dr. CKohlshristian Kohls is an expert on patterns, e-learning, creativity, software design and software engineering. He is a professor of computational science at Cologne University of Applied Sciences, Germany. Prior to his current position, he worked as an international consultant at SMART technologies and as researcher and developer at the Knowledge Media Research Center. Christian Kohls holds a PhD from the University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, with a thesis about mental and conceptual representations of patterns. He holds a master’s degree of media and computer science from the University of Applied Sciences Wedel/Hamburg. He worked as consultant at pharus53 software solutions and implemented multilingual wbt solutions and software tutorials. He is inventor and development coordinator of moowinx, an end user tool to create interactive graphics.  
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You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks? Instructional Support For Adult Learning

The saying, ”You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” depicts a common view many people implicitly share: Learning is best done young. For instance, the younger you learn a language, the better your chances of success. But is that actually true?

Can old dogs learn new tricks? Only if they want to!

Can old dogs learn new tricks? Only if they want to! (Image by Mark Robinson)

Read more ›

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Book Review: Teaching Crowds

crowd pic small

Crowds. They are everywhere, and generally crowds cause challenges for those that have to manage them. Yet, crowds can be exciting, energetic, and full of creativity. Trying to manage the complexities of a crowd, while harnessing the positive potential of a crowd can be especially tricky in an instructional context.

One of the most exciting (yet daunting) recent pushes in education is the call for using social media and social learning to connect with crowds. Whether this be a MOOC with tens of thousands of people, or teaching a distance course to a smaller group, teaching crowds can be a wonderful challenge. Teaching Crowds: Learning and Social Media teaching crowdsby Jon Dron and Terry Anderson is a recent book aimed to address this current teaching challenge. This book is part of the series, Issues in Distance Education, edited by Terry Anderson and David Wiley. Read more ›

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Stewarding Open Educational Practices: An Interview with Francesca Allegri and Bradley Hemminger

The term 'open educational resources (OER)' was coined in 2002 during a forum held by UNESCO as the open provision of educational resources, enabled by information and communication technologies, for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users for non-commercial purposes. Since then, the idea of educational material, freely and openly accessible on the Web, has attracted substantial attention.
Open for Education, Image by John Martinez Pavliga

Open for Education, Image by John Martinez Pavliga

In the past five years, the OER movement shifted its focus from creation to reuse and the adoption of sustainable open educational practices. Between 2010 and 2011, the Open Educational Quality Initiative collected 60 case studies of successful OER projects in Europe. In 2014, the “Open Resources: Influence on Learners and Educators” (ORIOLE) project concluded with the book publication ‘Reusing Open Resources’, from which selected chapters are available as a special issue of the Journal of Interactive Media in Education. The organization ‘Lumen Learning’ recently released an interactive dashboard to communicate and share information about the effect of open educational resource (re)use.

The 2015 Horizon report identifies the proliferation of Open Educational Resources (OER) as one of six trends that will accelerate technology adoption in higher education. As OER is gaining traction across campuses, the report predicts an increased acceptance and usage over the next 2-3 years. However, the broader proliferation of OER hinges on effective leadership: “While data shows that some faculty are integrating OER on their own, institutional leadership can reinforce the use of open content”. As Tony Bates observed: “There is a lot of evidence to suggest that the take-up of OERs by instructors is still minimal, other than by those who created the original version”. 

How can institutional leadership foster the use of OER? Which strategies do stewards of open education deploy to disseminate best practices and high-quality material? It was my pleasure to talk to Francesca Allegri and Bradley Hemminger, who are currently implementing an OER initiative at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

What is your role at UNC Chapel Hill?

Brad: I’m a faculty member in the School of Information and Library Science. One of my major research areas is “Shared Open Scholarship”, and as part of this I’m interested in the role OERs can play in making education more accessible, and I am committed to promoting the reuse of high quality teaching materials. I chair our UNC OER committee, which several of us started in 2012. We are interested in having better support for OERs on the UNC campus. Related to this work, I’ve previously chaired the Electronic Theses and Dissertations committee on campus (which shifted us from print to free electronic dissemination of these materials), and chair of the UNC Scholarly Communications Committee. Fran: I am an Assistant Director (Interim) and Head of User Services at the Health Sciences Library at the University of North Carolina. I became involved in the OER initiative on campus at the invitation of Brad to help plan how the university could be successful in engaging faculty and other instructors in creating and using OER. Our library has been an early and strong proponent of open access to scholarly output and of public access to the published products of federally funded research. The OER initiative seemed to be a very logical extension of those initiatives as well as being tied to our global initiatives to improve access to health information.

What is the scope and goal of your OER initiative?

Brad: We plan to provide a well-developed program of support on campus for faculty who choose to make course improvements, including the use or development of Open Educational Resources as course materials. This program will use expertise in the Libraries, the Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE) and other units on campus.The program has four primary goals:
  1. Improve courses and learning outcomes at UNC
  2. Significantly reduce the cost of educational materials for students taking courses at UNC
  3. Produce open shared course materials that can be utilized by other institutions
  4. Become a visible leader in developing open educational resources, both at the state and national levels

What have you achieved so far, and what are next steps?

Brad: The first step was identifying important participants on campus who were interested in or might want to be involved with OERs, or would be affected by the adoption of OERs on campus, and engaging them in our discussions. Some of the groups we identified are the Center for Faculty Excellence, the University Libraries, UNC Press, the textbook division of Student Stores, ITS/Sakai (course software), Innovate@Carolina, General Administration, and Faculty Council. As a group, we drafted an initial planning document to guide our work.   The next step was surveying similar efforts at other institutions, and identifying what made them successful or not. A library science masters student conducted web site reviews and compiled a comparative spreadsheet and librarians created an online survey which was sent to faculty development, scholarly communications, and health sciences library directors’ listservs. From these conversations and data we evaluated whether there should be a program at UNC supporting OERs, what form it should take, and what challenges we should expect to address.

Fran: One thing we identified from our survey was that successful programs included the library and the faculty development center as critical partners. Our committee felt that, for a number of reasons, the best approach on our campus was a slow growth one, where we could build support on campus from campus units and faculty, have guidelines available (implemented here as a library resource guide http://guides.lib.unc.edu/OER), be sure the infrastructure was in place (for instance having an OER collection in the Carolina Digital Repository with an easy submission mechanism), and develop metrics for measuring success before we begin to promote OERs on campus.

We will begin to officially promote OER support on campus later this year (Fall 2015), including an award program that will annually help a small number of instructors re-examine their courses to incorporate more OERs, or to develop publicly sharable OER content for their courses.   The award program will provide stipends to help offset the costs involved with re-envisioning courses and developing open course content materials.  The UNC Press is connected to this effort by looking at ways to support authors of larger content pieces (like full textbooks).

Do you have a vision of how open educational practices will impact the UNC campus over the next 2-3 years?

Brad: In our discussions, one thing we emphasize is that this is a win/win proposition. With OERs you do not need to convert everyone to using OERs, nor should you (it is not necessarily appropriate for all course materials).   So, it is easy to grow at whatever pace best suits your environment. We believe the uptake will be small in the first few years (a few dozen courses). Early adopters are already doing this; so we are focused on educating instructors who may not be familiar with the OER concept, and what materials may already be available to them. We think, though, at some point in the future, this will snowball into much larger numbers; however this will most likely happen 5-10 years out.

When you look at your own personal learning environment, what part do open educational resources play?

Brad: Because of my research interests in open, shared scholarly discourse, I already follow OER practices. I produce most all of my course materials, and in some cases reuse freely available materials (slides from instructors of similar materials at other institutions, videos that do a good job of conveying important course topics).   I make all of my materials available online, and free to other instructors to use (licensed through Creative Commons).   The one exception that I haven’t managed to avoid (yet!) is the Database course I teach where our curriculum uses the same textbook for several courses in sequence.   Excluding that, students (or anyone) can freely access, save, and share my course materials at no cost.

Fran: Librarians are implanted with a sharing chip! All of the instructional materials we create here at the Library are freely available. When we receive requests to use or adapt content we have developed, we only ask for attribution. Unless there is some requirement from an external collaborator to do otherwise, that is how we approach our teaching materials. For me personally, I love to find OER content that I or my colleagues can use or adapt. Much better than recreating the wheel.

One role librarians will play in the UNC-CH OER initiative will be helping faculty find relevant, quality OER’s they can consider using in their teaching . This is a key way that the subject specialist librarians across the libraries can help faculty adopt use of this content. This may also inspire faculty to create or share curriculum materials they develop if librarians identify there is a lack of suitable content in their area of teaching. The librarians can also support faculty sharing efforts, for example, alerting them to the Carolina Digital Repository and submission process, assisting with Creative Commons licensing, and similar help that can preserve faculty’s desired author’s rights and make their contributions discoverable by their peers and students. Contacting a librarian early in the process could save the faculty member’s time, also.

Can you name some of the barriers and enablers for open educational practices that you have encountered in your work at UNC?

Brad:There are a number of barriers. Some of the main ones we have identified include
  • Educating instructors about what OERs are
  • Finding and developing quality materials
  • Intellectual property and copyright concerns
  • Financial income concerns
  • Technological and sustainability questions
To be successful, an initiative of this type needs to anticipate and respond to concerns and challenges such as these. Based on our committee’s research, however, we believe an OER program at UNC has the potential for a huge upside, in terms of impact and publicity. There is little downside, as appropriate infrastructure exists on campus to support OERs. Even if only a small fraction of courses at UNC adopt OERs, this still results in a significant benefit. This program has the potential to greatly impact every North Carolina student’s cost of education and this is a critical time to help students with education costs.

Fran: We also identified enabling factors. These include

  • Availability of a large and rapidly growing pool of OERs to use in creating course materials
  • High prices of traditional textbooks causing demand for more affordable educational materials
  • Instructors’ desire to provide high quality low cost course materials to students
  • Regular discussions of open access issues at faculty meetings and annual program by a campus scholarly communications committee.

From your experience, are students generally aware of or rather oblivious to the open learning opportunities that surround them?

Brad:Up until recently, I think students were less aware of Open Learning as a concept, and the practicality of OERs. During the last few years, and even more so in the near future, I think four factors are causing this to change:
  • Increasingly high prices of college textbooks
  • Familiarity with open concepts (open source software, freely available music/videos, Creative Commons)
  • Environments (YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest) encouraging sharing and reuse
  • Tools (cellphones, cameras, video editing software, presentation software) that facilitate easily producing and sharing freely available content

If you could give one single piece of advice to every faculty member and instructor, what would it be?

Fran:Please contact your subject librarian to learn more about OER and what OER materials and support are available to you!

If you want to learn more about our initiative, consult the UNC-CH campus page on OERs for more information. hemminger Brad Hemminger is an associate professor at the School of Information and Library Science (SILS) at the University of North Carolina. He has a joint appointment in Carolina Center for Genome Sciences. He has a number of areas of research interests including digital scholarship, information seeking, information visualization, user interface design, digital libraries and biomedical health informatics.   He has published over 85 papers, served on several international standards committees, and consulted for a number of companies in the areas of visualization and user interfaces. He serves as a reviewer for over a fifteen journals and conferences.   He currently teaches scholarly communications, databases, biomedical health informatics, information visualization, and data science. He is director the Informatics and Visualization Lab at UNC, part of the Interactive Information Systems Lab, and directs the Center for Research and Development of Digital Libraries.   His current research interests are focused on developing new paradigms for scholarship, publishing, information seeking and use by academics in this digital age. For more information see his website http://ils.unc.edu/bmh/.

allegriFrancesca Allegri, MSLS, is Assistant Director (Interim) of the Health Sciences Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. As Assistant Director, she is determining and implementing user focused strategic initiatives, allocating resources, and advising the Director in these areas. She also is Head of User Services, Health Sciences Library. She manages a strong liaison librarian program and single service point (20 FTEs) and is part of the library’s senior management team. She is also a graduate of the National Library of Medicine/Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries Leadership Fellows Program. Prior to that, she held two positions in the Health Sciences Library’s administrative unit managing professional librarian recruitment, staff development, planning, and institutional data collection and reporting. She also served four years as Department Head of the education department at the Health Sciences Library and has had leadership experience in campus organizations, such as the University Managers Association and the UNC Network for Clinical Research Professionals. Earlier, Ms. Allegri served as Assistant Head at the University of Illinois Library of the Health Sciences in Urbana, Illinois. She holds an MSLS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois.

Posted in AACE

A Peek into Text Mining (II): Data Visualization

Many educational technology researchers leverage social media data to answer questions about trends, collaboration or learning networks. If you are not a programmer, you will most likely use existing apps and tools to conduct quantitative data analysis and generate visualizations such as word clouds and clusters. As more and more educators are acknowledging coding as an important digital literacy, this post we will explore some common techniques of statistical data visualization.

In my last posting on text mining, I described how to collect data from Twitter. In this post, I will describe how we can summarize a large set of tweets on a certain topic - for example the latest SITE conference.

Background: Giving structure to your data

Text data, such as tweets, comments or posts usually comes with limited structure, as compared to scores on likert scales. To visualize and quantify the data we have to give it structure in the first place. Suppose we have a character vector as the following:

> texts [1] "I am a member of the XYZ association"
[2] "Please apply for our open position"
[3] "The XYZ memorial lecture takes place on wednesday"
[4] "Vote for the most popular lecturer!"

What is a character vector? You can think of a character vector as a container of all text pieces. Each piece represents the text from an individual, and is assigned a number. You can access any piece by using its given number. This type of data is easy for humans to read, but not for machines. Machine prefers the same information structured in the following way:


A text file structured in this way is called document-term matrix. Each row in the matrix represents a word, while each column represents a document, which refers to all the texts from an individual. Each element in the matrix represents the number of times a particular word appears in a particular document. You may have noticed that all texts have been converted to lowercase in this matrix, while some words, like “a” or “the” are not shown up in the matrix.

To convert the tweet texts you collect into a document-term matrix, the following steps are usually necessary:

  1. Remove nonsense characters
  2. Convert all words to lowercase.
  3. Remove stop words, such as “a”, “an”, “that” and “the”.
As you can see, by delineating the text into single words, its meaning may change significantly. This is why it oftentimes makes sense to combine qualitative and quantitative approaches when analyzing data sets - simply looking at a word cloud is not a replacement for meaningful analysis of qualitative text data.

Sample Data - Tweets on #siteconf

Did you miss your favorite AACE conference? Would you like to find out what predominant topics people discussed? We collected 709 tweets using the hashtags "#siteconf".

Step 1: Word Clouds

To take a quick look at our data, an initial visual representation with world clouds is helpful.

wordcloudAs you can see, the word clouds present us some key information as well as a lot of noise. We can spot some popular topics at a glance, but it is impossible to see how concepts are related.

Step 2: Cluster Tree

A more structured way to explore the data in an associational sense is to look at the collection of terms that frequently co-occur. This method is called cluster analysis.

Cluster analysis is a way of finding association between items and bind nearby items into groups. A typical visualization technique is a tree diagram called dendrogram. The most common cluster analysis include K-means clustering and hierarchical clustering. K-means clustering require you to specify how many groups you prefer to have in the result before the analysis, while hierarchical clustering doesn’t have this requirement.


The density and shape of the dendrogram may vary depending on the sparsity. The above one is the dendrogram on sparsity .95. It is interesting that when people tweeted using the hashtag “#msueped”, they also tended to use “#site2015”. “#msueped” stands for Educational Psychology and Educational Technology from Michigan State University. You can tell that many people from this program went to SITE 2015 conference.


Did you gain a sense what the SITE community is talking about? Data visualization is certainly helpful to make sense of large datasets as it allows you to gain an overview from an elevated perspective. However, don’t mistake a set of images for the real thing. If you attended SITE 2015 in Las Vegas, your first hand experience is likely to be totally different and certainly more in-depth. Also keep in mind that while social media is becoming ever more popular, Twitter users are still only a sub-group of the whole audience.

No approach is neutral in its analysis: Understanding the tools that we use helps us to interpret seemingly obvious connections more carefully. If you want to explore how we produced these visualizations use our sample data set with instructions.


Posted in AACE, SITE Tagged with: , , ,