This week in learning innovation – 11.09.14

[This is the latest 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.]

Yeah, so after 3 consecutive weeks of posting in this series, I fell down for a couple of weeks. I’m surprised neither of my readers, including my father, called me on this.

Well, if you fall off the bike, you get right back on, right? So, onward…


Domain Of One’s Own

A Domain of One’s Own is a project at the University of Mary Washington managed by the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies…Starting in fall 2013, the project allows UMW students, faculty, and staff to register their own domain name and associate it with a space on a UMW-managed Web server. In that Web space, users will have the opportunity and flexibility to design and create spaces of almost unlimited possibilities. Within the system, they may install LAMP-compatible Web applications, set up subdomains and email addresses, and install databases. In addition, users may choose to “map” their domain (or a subdomain) to other services, such as a UMW Blogs, Google Sites, or Tumblr..

That’s how DOOO is explained to the University of Mary Washington community, where the initiative took flight. Conceptually, it’s not that complicated: students are given (or pay a small fee for) a domain; basically a home on a server where they can pretty easily install a whole bunch of applications ranging from WordPress to MediaWiki. Instead of *just* offering faculty and students their own blog and/or wiki, this is server space with a dead simple control panel from where users can install various applications. The UMW folks dreamed this up and have implemented it there. Other colleges and universities are test-driving it, too, including, I believe, Davidson College and the University of Oklahoma.

That’s innovative enough.

But, now comes word that Jim Groom and Tim Owens have spun off a fully-featured, packaged version of DOOO for teams, organizations, universities, whoever. For $200/month (a shockingly affordable rate, IMHO), institutions, and individuals at those institutions get:

  • 250gb of local storage
  • Enterprise single sign-on ready
  • Full data ownership and portability
  • Unlimited user accounts
  • Branded for your institution
  • World-class technical support

This all begins in January of 2015. Kudos and best of luck to Jim and Tim.

(Pssst. Fellas. I look forward to the conversation about how SCHEV can take OpenVA to the next level by facilitating a DOOO for all Virginia college students…)



PressForward Pilots and Outreach

A free and open-source software project launched by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media in 2011, PressForward enables teams of researchers to aggregate, filter, and disseminate relevant scholarship using the popular WordPress web publishing platform. Over the next fourteen months, PressForward will shift from initial development to implementation of its innovative alternative publishing platform.

I’ve long been intrigued by PressForward for a number of reasons. To understand what it affords, consider the foundational case of Digital Humanities Now.

DHNow aggregates potential content via RSS from our Compendium of Digital Humanities, which includes hundreds of venues where high-quality digital humanities scholarship is likely to appear, such as the personal websites of scholars, institutional sites, blogs, and other feeds—and is open for anyone to join. We also seek to discover new material by monitoring Twitter and other social media for stories discussed by the community, and by continuously scanning the broader web through generalized and specialized search engines. Community Editors-at-Large also directly nominate content from their own networks.

In other words, based on a continually-tweaked compendium of blogs, websites, Twitter feeds, journals, etc. (anything with an RSS feed, basically), PressForward adds a bit of automation to curation and feeds it all into WordPress. From there, administrators of the WordPress aggregation site can make editorial decisions about what to publish and how to publish it.

This week, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media announced that “…the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has generously awarded $481,340 to fund a new phase of PressForward.” CHNM will be partnering and collaborating with some great organizations that “will serve as models to other research and scholarly organizations, and they will provide essential feedback to guide the ongoing development of PressForward.”

I look forward to seeing what comes of these partnerships. I would also love to work with faculty members at VCU teaching courses where PressForward is used as a way for students to curate content for each other on an ongoing basis.


What If…?

But it turns out that trying to thoroughly answer a stupid question can take you to some pretty interesting places.

This is a little different than the usual fare here; this isn’t perfectly obvious as a “learning innovation” entry. But, since I began working with Tom Woodward, I’ve been thinking about the XKCD What If series as a potential goldmine for learning innovation.  In the NYT article to which I link above, and from where that quote comes, Randall Munroe, the man behind the What If series is profiled. The story is amazing, and I especially like the anecdote about the pivot/move Munroe made while teaching one day. Basically, he took the pulse of the students and realized he’d lost them. So, he improvised and decided to try to explain the concept using an example from Star Wars, complete with stick figures and other doodlings. The students were hooked, immediately. (NOTE: there’s a lot to unpack there with respect to teaching…)

I keep coming back to that quote, though. But it turns out that trying to thoroughly answer a stupid question can take you to some pretty interesting places. It’s been said that learning is often framed around students answering questions, but not asking good questions. We can extend that to asking stupid questions. So, “WHAT IF” students, in the right course, were prompted to ask what seems like a really stupid question and then to see if they could find an answer? WHAT IF, those research projects were curated into a compendium and shared across the course and publicly? You wouldn’t read what a group of energized students come up with?


The University of Texas System makes bold move into competency-based education

The University of Texas System will be the first in the nation to launch a personalized, competency-based education program system-wide aimed at learners from high school through post-graduate studies… What sets the UT System approach apart from other competency-based programs is a focus on offering personalized and adaptive degrees and certificates that are industry-aligned and – via technology developed by the UT System – can systematically improve success, access and completion rates in areas of high employment demand.

I have ALL KINDS of questions and reservations about competency-based education. All. Kinds. And, there are disagreements even among folks in education for whom I have great respect.

I do know, though, that those of us in “traditional” seat time-based education ought not ignore what’s happening here. I’m by no means an expert on competency-based education, but I’m fairly certain that, to this point, it has been largely the province of for-profit providers and the Goliath that is Western Governors University.

Now, the UT System, one of the largest and most well-respected systems of higher education is moving in to the space. That’s a big deal, IMHO.

Consider me on notice.

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