This week in learning innovation – 10.12.14

[This is the 2nd in a series of weekly posts chronicling examples of learning innovation that come across my Web radar. All of the weekly posts are tagged as twili.]


Things are getting worse on the internet, not better, at the very moment when the internet in all of its forms is becoming part and parcel of everyday life.

That’s from Tim Carmody’s post over on his new blog. He’s right, unfortunately. There’s some dark, nasty stuff going on in populous parts of the Web. But, remember, This Week In Learning Innovation (TWILI) is all about rainbows, puppies and unicorns interesting learning experiences. So, onward…


Virtual Field Trips

There’s no substitute for taking students into the field when it comes to teaching them how we explore the unknown – how we came to know what we think we know about the history of our planet… But the reality is most undergraduates taking geoscience courses – even many geoscience majors – don’t get much field experience. They may have one or two really great field trips, but they won’t get to explore the classic locations around the world that helped us see the planet, and ourselves, through new eyes.

I know, I know. I want students to really, truly experience parts of their communities and the larger world as much as possible. And, frankly, the idea of the “virtual field trip” is not new. But, the technologies available to us continue to improve, and the folks at Arizona State have built some really slick media to help simulate “being there.” I poked around a number of the Virtual Field Trips and was pretty amazed at what I was able to see.  It would be really interesting to have students build out some of these virtual field trips.

And, while I’m writing about the work of Dr. Ariel Anbar and Dr. Lev Horodyskyj, you might want to check out their Habitable Worlds Beyond course. In a press release issued by Smart Sparrow, the eLearning platform they used to create educational experiences that are rich, interactive and adaptive, the course is described as one that

…could do more than a large university lecture-lab course in giving students a taste of the scientific process. To that end, HabWorlds Beyond is not a collection of taped lectures, multiple choice questions and PowerPoints. Instead, it features game-like simulations, immersive virtual field trips, and a semester-long individualized quest, all integrated entirely into Smart Sparrow’s Adaptive eLearning Platform. Students create and destroy stars, hunt for planets, search for signs of life, and travel around the world and back in time, to explore the limits of Earth’s habitability.

Apparently, as of this semester, “…college professors from any university will be able to teach HabWorlds Beyond in their classrooms, using the Smart Sparrow platform.”


Michigan State University is launching, a new educational portal that will offer open-access courses and resources to students around the globe… “We see our Foodchannel as engagement platform, of which MOOCs are one product,” she [Christine Geith, assistant provost and executive director of MSU Global] said. “We envision an expanded suite of services ranging from research dissemination, to events like webinars and short, noncredit courses and more as this global community grows.”

What I like here is that MSU is building on a particular strength of the university. As Geith says, “MSU has a strong and incredibly diverse global network of food systems experts that positions the university to lead the conversation in addressing food-related issues.” I’ve long said that VCU needs to think about its unique strengths and figure out how to use the affordances of the open Web to make that particular expertise as accessible as possible. I’m looking at you VCU Arts and Brandcenter.


Virginia Commonwealth University’s daVinci Center for Innovation

DaVinci, which was founded in 2007 by VCU’s schools of business, engineering and art, focuses on an interdisciplinary approach to innovation and entrepreneurship. [Ken] Kahn [the Center’s Director] said it’s important for daVinci, as an interdisciplinary program, to have its own space where students can gather. “This is an incubator for students, and it makes sense to have it here,” she [Virginia Wood, a second-year master’s degree student] said. “The high ceilings, glass offices and open space are a lot of fun.” “The space is very open, and the transparency is good for working in groups,” he  [Felipe Goncalves, a Brazilian engineering student who moved to Richmond this summer to start his master’s degree in product innovation] said. “There’s a very good culture here.”

I have to feature VCU learning innovation whenever I can! I haven’t had a chance to explore much around the daVinci Center at VCU yet, but I’m really eager to learn more about what they’re doing. This week, the Center opened its new learning space. So, I post this not so much to point to what the Center is about (though that is worth exploring), but more as an example of modern learning spaces. In VCU’s ALT Lab, we have an Incubator Classroom where we’re working with faculty and students to explore the affordances of a flexible, high-tech space for teaching and learning. We also have an informal learning time and space we call the ALT Lab Agora. The new Depot Building as part of the VCU School of the Arts has a similar feel.

This all reminds me of another interesting article I read this week about student learning and “open lab hours” in the Knight Lab at Northwestern University.

The idea behind Open Lab Hours is simple: create a space for students interested in journalism and technology to gather and work on projects. All are welcome. Some students come with the most basic questions, like “What’s the internet?”, while more advanced students come to debug projects, or hack on interactive and data stories for student publications. The key has been to create a community for people who want to learn. With a safe space for beginners, rookies and advanced folks to work together, relationships are naturally formed between students with varying skill levels. These relationships help newbies learn while providing more advanced students with the capacity to teach and develop new project ideas.

“The key has been to create a community for people who want to learn.” Boom!


Github Student Developer Pack

When technologies are made free to students, my inner skeptic comes out.  But, I do want to explore this one a little bit more. It’s free to students, and, on its face, it looks like a pretty powerful bundle. If others understand this better than me at the moment, I’d welcome some comments on this. The Github Developer Pack announcement came the same week I saw that Namecheap is giving students “…a free bundle to kickstart their online presence.”

Jerome Bruner – How does teaching influence learning?

Because Jerome Bruner.

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