Notes & Quotes from The Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know Were in BB Learn #BbWorld14

I attended “The Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know Were in Blackboard Learn” this morning, led by Jim Chalex (Senior Director of product Management for BB Learn). For those who have been using Learn for quite some time, perhaps much of this is familiar. For people newer to the LMS (like me), it was an impressive and helpful overview of new features and enhancements of existing features. Everything below is part of the “Learning Core” package.

10 – Date Management

When you are teaching a course for the second time, what do you do to get ready? One thing is to adjust the dates for the new term/section. Date management automates much of this process. It gives you a list of dates to review and adjust from the last term. This is much faster than if you had to recreate dates for everything.

9 – Student Preview

You know what the course looks like as a teacher. What will it look like for the students? Student Preview helps you answer that question, including a preview of what grades will look like. You can do anything that a typical student would do. You can even take a test, add discussion posts, etc. When you exit the student view, it gives you an option to keep that student data. So, if you took a test in student view, you could keep the data from it and then see how the score shows up in the teacher view.

8 – Blackboard Store

Students need materials…easily and in a timely manner. This feature integrates the text and resource purchasing process right within the context of Blackboard Learn. The student can see the required materials, and BB promises competitive pricing.

7 – Delegated Assignment Grading

What if you need more than one person to be involved in the grading of the course. What if there are teaching aids, or you want to set up peer graders, or even bring in other guests to grade or give feedback on student submissions? This tool allows you to explicitly define who will be the graders for each assignment. You can even specify which submissions they can grade (like the entire class, select students, or select groups). In addition, you have the option of making the submissions look anonymous to the graders. After all this, you have the choice of reconciling the final grade, like if you had multiple graders for the same assignment. You can even add a grader mid-stream.

6 – SafeAssign Integration

BB has had a built-in plagiarism detection tool. Now it is much more integrated in the workflow. As you create assignments, you can build in SafeAssign review as part of the submission workflow. Now rubrics and multiple assignment attempts, for example, work right in SafeAssign. In other words, SafeAssign is now a fully built-in plagiarism detection solution.

5 – Inline Grading

How do we make grading faster? Word documents and PDFs now show up right in the submission itself…no need to download (although you can still do that if you want). You can annotate the documents right in the browser, and your other feedback options show up right on the side of the submission. This sidebar works for grading pretty much anything in Learn.

4 – Test Power Features

For STEM fields, you can now develop calculated/formula questions with significant figures…important for chemistry and related disciplines. Another enhancement is test exceptions. Maybe you have a timed test. What if you need to make an exception for a single student who needs a special accommodation? Now it is extremely easy to do this. You can make feature exceptions for people or select groups.

For high stakes tests (midterms, finals, etc.), there is often a proctored environment. To support that, they added IP address filtering. You can define where a test can be taken…like only at a computer in a specific lab on campus.

Access logs are also enhanced. What if a student is taking a test and has Internet problems? The logs let you know exactly what a student did or did not do, allowing you to validate a student claim about what happened.

3 – Portfolio Assessment

Portfolio capabilities are already built-in Learn. However, the way students created the portfolio was clunky and not aesthetically pleasing.  It was also not integrated into the environment. They have redone the portfolio to make it aesthetic, easy to use, and integrated with the grading and other features. Students can also pull assignments out of a course and put them into the portfolio with ease, working well for a more program-wide portfolio instead of one just tied to a single course. In addition to this, they created a feature in assignments where you can require students to submit their portfolio in the course! All this is part of the learning core.

2 – Learn Outcome and Activity Reporting

You now have the option to define learning outcomes on a program level and align them to most anything. This can drive curriculum mapping and performance reports, reports like how students in a given class are doing in terms of meeting the program level outcomes.

There is detailed activity reporting to track group activity and drilled down student-specific activity on pretty much everything in the course.

1- The Retention Center

Everyone is taking about retention and persistence. It is a critical part of what we do. The retention center provides a straightforward way to figure out which students are struggling and need a potential intervention (or just a little nudge). It lets you see patterns of behavior (like missing due dates, not logging in, poor performance on a grade, inactivity in the course, etc.). There are default settings, but you can also adjust it to determine risks levels of different students. And when you find an at-risk student, you can also connect with the student right from the same screen.

0 – Publisher Integration

Learn is working hard to make it really easy to integrate resources from publishers like Wiley, Pearson, Cengage, and McGraw Hill…all deeply integrated with single sign-on.


15+ Resources: Learn the Why, What & How of Teaching Digital Collaboration

Tony Wagner identified “collaboration across networks” as one of the seven survival skills for this age. How do we help learners embrace the power and possibility of collaboration, cooperating and networking in an increasingly connected world? The following 15+ resources offer insights into the why, what and how of teaching encouraging and nurturing digital age collaboration.

How Technology Can Encourage Student Collaboration – This essay is a great starting point for exploring the topic of digital age collaboration. It provides a compelling reason for it along with practical examples.

Using Wikis for Collaborative Learning – This article provides a solid introduction to the idea of digital age collaboration, focusing especially upon the idea of wikis. While it is an older article, the concepts continue to apply today.

Using Wikis for Learning and Collaboration – This article also gives a good introduction to wiki-based collaboration. It includes a helpful list of suggested tools and books for further study/reading.

Teaching Students to Collaborate Using Google Docs (video) – This short video provides a practical example of how one teacher helps students learn how to use technology to collaborate.

Randy Nelson on Learning and Working in the Collaborative Age (video)- This video provides important advice on what sort of collaborative skills (and attitudes) we want to cultivate in our learners.

Teacher’s Guide to International Collaboration on the Internet – Helping students learn how to collaborate with diverse people across networks is a critical 21st and 22nd century skill. This web page provides a collection of some of the best resources for building international collaborations in your classroom using technology.

Free Tools to Collaborate, Hold Discussions, and Backchannel with Students – These two sites provides a long list of collaboration tools and technologies (20+ on one site and 101 on the other). Some of these tools may not be the best or most current, but they illustrate what is possible.

The Online Collective Essay – This blog post provides several specific ideas on how to leverage collaborative writing projects with students.

Reflections on Digital Age Collbaoration (video) – This short video introduces the idea of collective knoweldge generation in the digital age. It also briefly introduces the dark side of digital collaboration.

Peeragogy Leraning Handbook – This electronic text (with multimedia) represents an approach to teaching and learning known as peeragogy (sometimes paragogy), leveraging peer-to-peer interactions for learning. It includes a large number of essays. Consider at least reviewing the article on technologies, services and platforms ( ). However, you will find short articles on motivation, assessment and resources for further reading. Note tha the site include a link to a Google+ community where you can interact with the authors and others interested in this topic. -

Group Essays – this guide from Duke University provides tips to students when working on a group essay. It also serves as a helpful guide for teachers who are considering creating a group essay assignment. This deals more with the process and pedagogy and not the technology. Combine the ideas from this resource with some of the ideas from the more technology-oriented resources to great a digital collaboration idea. -

What is collaboration? – This short blog post and table show the differences and features of four related but distinct terms: networking, coordinating, cooperation, and collaboration. You can use this as a guide to decide what sort of student-student interaction may be most useful for a given lesson or educational goal.

Collective Sharing and Generation of Knowledge – This is a helpful site in better understanding what we mean by “collective knoweldge generation.” The site includes background information, instructional videos, and a number of examples. Use the table of contents on the right side of the following page to navigate. Note that a number of the links to not work any longer, but those that do remain useful illustrations of how to leverage wikis for learning. -

Student Created Wikis – This page includes links to a number of student-created wikis, providing helpful examples of how wikis are used for student learning and collaboration.

 Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age – In this 2004 essay, Dr. George Siemens proposes a new learning theory that he calls connectivism. It is built upon the idea of collaboration and collective knowledge in the digital age.

Helping Students Develop Personal Learning Networks – Collaboration is not just about completing an assignment together. It is about developing a network of people who students can use to help them learning over and extended period. This is where the idea of a personal leaning network can be helpful. These articles provide tips and background on student personal learning networks, and how to help students develop such networks. – , , ,

Notes, Quotes, & Reflections from Jay Bhatt’s Keynote at #BbWorld14

One of the keynotes at Blackboard World 2014 was CEO Jay Bhatt. I’ve not always resonated with the vision of top leadership at Blackboard and Jay is new. Regardless, I resolved to go into the session hopeful and with an open mind. Here is what I heard, thought and concluded.

Jay started with a series of statistics to describing the changing state of education.

  • In a study conducted in Project Tomorrow, Blackboard learned that one out of every four students reported being motivated to learn because the like their school/classroom environment.
  • 75% of young people are using mobile devices.
  • One out of three feel education is preparing them well for jobs.
  • Our education system is not producing enough graduates with the right skills.
  • 57% of employers say they can’t find enough entry-level employees.
  • 100 million more learners worldwide are coming into our higher education institutions. We have a capacity problem.

In view of these things, Blackboard is committed to reimagining education, putting the learner in the center, and redesigning to embrace education in a more holistic way.

So, what does this mean in practical terms? What is Blackboard doing that was not done before? They are doing plenty, but I was most interested to hear about their commitment to corporate citizenship, to being an active participant in the global education community, conversation and challenge. With that in mind here are the ten activities caught my attention.

1. This means contributing to the education sector with a social good in mind. A specific example is their investment in MoodleRooms products, but contributing much of their work back to the Moodle open source community. Embracing the culture of open is an important part of reimagining education.

2. They are founding members of the Badge Alliance, a movement dedicated to exploring the promise and possibilities of micro-credentials. If you read my blog, you probably know my own interest and involvement with this group. I look forward to the good work that we can do together in this area.

3. They acquired MyEDU and are integrating it with Blackboard Learn. This tool demonstrates Blackboard’s commitment to putting the student at the center. This acquisition creates a space for students to display their work, showcase their skills, add new work experiences and associated competencies, and share this with prospective employers. When students leave the University, they still have their MyEDU account. This is a very different type of acquisition motive than some that I’ve experienced in the past. These strike me as smart and missional moves to expand their influence and impact in the education sector. These are the sort of acquisitions that I support and commend.

4. Blackboard is partnering with the American Council on Education to explore new models of learning around competency-based education.

5. The are working with Project Tomorrow and the Chronicle of Higher Education to better understand learnings in higher education.

6. The are being active and intentional about having BB team members writing, publishing and speaking about reimagining education.

7. They are intentionally using their industry position and voice to help give voice to or amplify the voice of promising practices among Blackboard clients.

8. They are offering TipTxT, an anti-bullying tool for free to k-12 schools.

9. They are investing in thought leaders and innovative programs that benefit education, everything from support for Sugata Mitra’s work to the ACE Fellows program. Yes, these are good decision from a relationship marketing standpoint, but these sorts of choices are also signs of a company that recognizes the distinct responsibilities of functioning in the education sector.

10. They are boldly and persistently chanting a commitment to student-centered education. This is not popular in all parts of education. What this tells me is that Blackboard stands for something educationally. It is a company with an educational mission and educational convictions.

Yes, Blackboard continues to develop a fine selection of technologies and services, but that is not enough for me. As a person committed to the social mission of education, I want to invest in and partner with companies that share such a mission. As I’ve noted in other articles, educational businesses are part of the education sector…a sector that has a social responsibility, not just a financial end. I am delighted to see the emphasis of a Blackboard that agrees with such sentiments.

As I briefly said to Jay Bhatt a few hours ago, “I am one of your most challenging converts to Blackboard, but what you are doing, what you are talking about, what you are emphasizing. That is what is winning me over.” I see a Blackboard that I can be proud to partner with in this good and important work of reimagining education. I see a Blackboard that is willing to support and help amplify my work and my organization’s work to reimagine education, to help build networks and communities toward this end, and to provide leadership in developing next generation products and services that will allow us to prepare students for high-impact life and learning.

8 Resources for a Mind-Brain Education Primer

Brains. We all have them, and they play a rather significant role in learning and education. The last two decades of research on the brain has created countless awakenings in the field of education (not to mention dozens of other fields), awakenings to the resilience of the human brain, how our understanding of the brain can inform teaching and learning, what motivates us, bores us, engages us, and helps us remember. Mind-brain education has become a means of connecting diverse learning theories from the past several hundred years, dispelling myths, affirming age-old convictions about learning, and providing fascinating explanations about why and how we learn. There is still much that we do not know, but there is now a substantive enough body of neuroscience literature that a growing number of scholars are confident using some of this research to help inform educational practice. With this in mind, I cultivated the following eight resources as a short primer on the topic.

The most important lesson from 83,000 brain scans – This 15 minute video by Daniel Amen provides a helpful introduction to how research on the human brain offers us lessons and insights about life and learning.

What does every educator need to know about the brain? by Eric Jensen – Eric Jensen is a seminal figure in the area of brain-based learning (which is technically distinct from mind-brain education). This short video will introduce you to Eric Jense and provide a few foundational brain-based ideas that Jensen considers important for educators.  –

Neuroplasticity and Education – For a long time, most people believed the brain worked like a machine, with each part playing distinct and unrelated roles. More recent research shows how resilient we are as humans, and how our brain can adapt and change through learning and new experiences. This short video introduces us to this idea called neuroplasticity, and why it is important for education.

Mind, Brain and Education: The Impact of Educational Neuroscience on the Science of Teaching by David A. Sousa (pp. 37 – 43) – David Sousa is another seminal scholar in the field of mind-brain education. The following link is to a text with a collection of essays about the subject. However, pp. 37-43 provides a helpful summary and introduction for educators.

Brain Rules Schools: What School Would Look Like if we Listened to Research – Education can sometimes be shaped by trends and fads more than research. What would schools look like if we tried to build them based more upon the principles that we can extract from mind-brain research? This resource explores that question and offers some possibilities.

Mind, Brain and Education Journal – This online journal includes a collection of some of the best and most current research in mind-brain education. Many of the articles can be viewed for free on the web site, but others will require a bit of detective work on your part, namely using a local library.

Why Mind, Brain Education? – This article is named after the central question for the essay. It provides a simple and straightforward rationale for the importance of mind-brain research in education. -

Why Mind, Brain and Education Science is the “New” Brain-Based Education – This article is an excellent introduction to the idea of mind-brain education, why it is important, and the implications for education.

7 Modern Mutations of Universal Free Higher Education: It is Coming to the US Sooner Than you Think

Even as costs of higher education continue to rise faster than the rate of inflation, a several-century old educational innovation is taking new forms and threatening or promising to disrupt (or at least shake up) the existing educational ecosystem. I am referring to the concept of universal free education, an idea that transformed the Western world. We see this idea’s the incubation in the 16th century with a Moravian Brethren, Johan Amos Comenius, designer of the predecessor to the Rosetta Stone with his Orbis Pictus (World of Pictures), a text that taught Latin using simple drawings and related text. Comenius was also an early champion for universal access to education for men and women, and across different classes. From there we see the idea emerge with vigor and financial backing as we trace the growth of free public education systems around the world.

Past strands of this innovation focused largely on formal primary and secondary education, but it has also spread to higher education in parts of the world. Looking at the landscape in the United States primarily (but also beyond), I see a number of new mutations of this idea that have a direct impact on the future of higher education. It is difficult to discern which ones will survive and spread, and which our cultural vaccinations will kill off, but it is becoming increasingly clear that one or more of these strands will survive and thrive in the near future. The spirit of universal free education is an innovation that adapts and persists in the contemporary world.

Formal education is never free. Students may not be required to pay tuition, but there are still expenses: teachers, resources, time… Even in the world of open education, access to learning is often free and open, but someone is paying for the infrastructure that supports these efforts. Did you take a free MOOC through Coursera or EdX? It might not cost you money (except for the expense of the computer, Internet connection and whatever value you place on your time), but it costs plenty of money to design, develop and facilitate each of those courses.

Of course, when we talk about free education, we are referring to the direct financial expense incurred by the learner. By free education, we usually mean that it is funded through taxes and/or charitable given instead of tuition. The United States already has a massive free K-12 public education system, as to do many other countries. In addition, over 40 countries around the world offer free University education, some even offering stipends to students or extending the free education through graduate study. Others, like Denmark, are so committed to free education, that even foreign students can pursue their undergraduate and graduate studies at no personal cost (apart from the cost of living).

What are these new mutations of the age-old innovation of free and universal education? More of these are being identified every year, but following are seven, some of which are already well established, and others that have notable and exponential rates of attention and/or expansion.

Education as a Human Right 

While the vision for universal free education has been around for centuries, it was only more recently that people started to refer to it as a human right. Such perspectives place access to education alongside other current debates about the extend to which things like healthcare should also be considered a human right. If we don’t want this to turn into a highly politicized rhetorical battle,

It would be useful to clarify terms a bit, but framing education as a human right, as is done in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, leads to some intriguing questions. For example, the UDHR not only describes foundational education as a human right, but alongside that, it states that parents should have the right to choose the type of education for their children. This suggests not just a single common accessible education system, but a menu of accessible education options. Consider how many countries fund faith-based schools as well as public schools, which some could interpret as supporting the position of education rights in the UDHR. Regardless of this nuance in the broader conversation, the human rights perspective on education seems to drive us to think about how we can make it as accessible as possible…without the burden of massive personal debt.

Low-cost Competency-based Higher Education 

Not all efforts in competency-based education incorporate the plan to reduce the cost of education, but some clearly do, like Western Governor’s University and the University of Wisconsin Flex program. These are not free, but they are leveraging a more bare-bones model of education to cut costs and tuition. Further supplement these efforts with a tax base and we have a potentially workable model for universal free higher education. It does not mean that everyone will opt for this model, but competency-based education has enough of a research base now to show that it is a practical and effective form of educating.

Dual Credit Programs

This one is not on everyone’s radar, but it is already having an impact on the higher education system. For prepared students, there are many state-mandated (and sometimes state-funded) initiatives to give students remarkable head starts on higher education. For example, the State of Michigan pays for the tuition of high school students (in public and private secondary schools) who want to start earning college credit through dual credit classes (classes that count toward high school graduation but are also transcript-ed college credits from a given University). Some programs around the country are so generous that it is possible for hard-working high school student to graduate high school with 60 college credits or even an associate’s degree. While many do not think of it in such terms, this is essentially an existing model for free higher education in the United States. It does not seem like a massive step to simply extend things by another two years to pay for a full bachelor’s degree. And this is not new.

Open Course Experiments

Up until now, I have not been willing to join the conversation about MOOCs in comparison to traditional college. My reason for resisting was (and is) because doing so was too sudden and extreme. The merit of MOOCs does not depend upon this one possibility. They have value for self-directed learners even if they never result in a degree. And this is where I am willing to enter the conversation about MOOCs as a part of expanded higher education. MOOCs are currently primarily about learning and not credentialing. Where the existing higher education system is sometimes overly occupied with the piece of paper handed out at the end, MOOCs are currently drawing people who want and/or need to learn something. As such, they do play an important role in the conversation about universal free education, especially if we see education as being most importantly about learning, what I frequently talk and write about as a culture of learning over a culture of earning. From this perspective, MOOCs are visible reminders that the Internet and ubiquitous access that that Internet makes free learning available to all.

Existing Free Higher Education Models in the United States

There are already schools that offer free higher education to students in the United States. Some of them are among the most selective in the country, but if you can get accepted, they find ways to make sure that cost does not prevent you from studying there (see some of the schools in this list as an example – ). Schools are using work study, charitable donations, and other models as well (

The Tennessee Promise 

This 2014 initiative, approved in April, is a promise to provide a free community college education to any high school graduate. This is currently the only state in the US that offers a free community college education to its entire young people. We will be watching to see how this works, financially and academically. How will it impact enrollment and viability of private and other 4-year institutions in the state and region? While this is nothing new to other countries that already have universal free higher education, this is trail blazing in the United States, and I except to see other states propose similar plans in the near future.

Alternative Credentials

Professional certificates, digital badges, nano-degrees, and other emerging forms of credentialing also seem to represent the spirit of universal free education. After all, the “right” to education is not about the right to a particular abstraction known as a traditional diploma. If that were the main goal, then we should welcome diploma mills or just invest in the postage necessary to mail everyone in the country a new and “official” diploma. It is what the diploma represents that matters. As such, alternative credentials have a voice in the conversation. To they extent that they represent and are perceived as representing true knowledge and skill acquisition, they also contribute to more widespread access to education. Open digital badge are no small part of this effort.

7+1 – The Learning Network

I know that I titled this article “7 Modern Mutations”, but there is an eighth that permeates many of the others, one arguable deserves a spot of its own. With the rapid expansion of the Internet (and the knowledge sharing, resources, connections and communities made possible by it), there is another important contributor to free and universal access to higher education. That is represented by the concept of the personal learning network. Through a PLN, each of us are capable of acquiring much of the knowledge and skill that others garner through a college degree. As K-12 schools pay more attention to their role in helping young people develop their PLN, they are also contributing the the cause of free universal lifelong learning.

Each of these seven strands are evidence that the century-old innovation called universal free education continues to spread. It is mutating to do so, but in remarkable ways that still seem to push toward the goal of increased access and opportunity through education. If I were in a leadership position at a higher education institution (Oh. Wait a second…), I would be having serious and extended conversation about these trends, preparing for the revolution of free higher education in the United States.

Notes & Quotes from Joi Ito’s Keynote at #BBWorld14

Joi Ito, Director of MIT Media Lab, took the stage for the opening keynote at Blackboard World 2014 in Las Vegas. The first part of his presentation was a repeat of his 2014 TedTalk, pointing out how the “Internet pushed innovations to the edges…away from the people with the money, power and authority.”

While I’d seen his TedTalk before, these same ideas came across as fresh because now it was challenging me to apply this to the education sector. Is it possible that the Internet will push educational innovation to the edges as well, alway from the people and organizations with money, power and authority? What does that look like? Are things like MOOCs, OER, peer-to-peer learning networks signs of this movement? What is the next phase? Part of that answer, I suppose, comes from the fact that Joi Ito is directing a media lab at one of the leading Universities in the world, and he doesn’t have a college degree. He has clearly demonstrated the knowledge, passion, skill and insight; but he doesn’t have the diplomas…items currently controlled by people with the money, power and authority to issue such credentials. Perhaps this “edge of educational innovation” is a future where learners own their own credentials, where alternative ways of displaying one’s learning are just as accepted (or more so) than traditional credentials like the college diploma.

In the second half of his, talk Ito identified five wonderfully provocative frameworks, concepts or models for thinking about the presenting and future needs of learning: The 4 P’s of Learning, 4 Pairs of Connected Learning, the affordances of anti-disciplinary work, the value of becoming an artist-designer-scientist-engienner (all in one), and Ito’s 9 Principles of Learning. Following is a short introduction to each of these.

The Four P’s of Learning

Ito cast a vision for learning and learning contexts that are largely informed by projects, peers, passion, and play. Instead of having to master the content before you get to do something with it, Ito argued for diving into projects and learning along the way. The same goes for play and the Lifelong Kindergarten at MIT. We learn so much in kindergarten through play but many of us abandon those habits of play. He argues that we need to embrace and encourage them throughout life. Then there is the third P, peers. “You learn when you teach,” Ito reminded us. And peers are not just people of the same age. They are people of all ages, including adult mentors. The last P (although he actually listed it as the third) is passion…what he referred to as, “the energy to want to do something.” Imagine what our learning organizations would look like if these were the four primary ingredients to each school day.

Connected Learning

I learned something fascinating. Until today, I had not clue that Joi was Mimi Ito’s brother! I’ve been a longstanding fan of her work, and it was delightful to discover the connection between these two thought-leaders. It was delightful then, to see Joi spend a few minutes of the good work being done in the connected learning movement. Specifically, he pointed to the work around exploring potential connections between four contexts or groups. He juxtaposed interests and academics, in-school and out-of-school, online and the “real world”, kids and adults. Part of what connected learning does it examine learning in each of these realms, but then also looks for potential connections among them. While he did not mention it, I immediately think of the promising City-wide Summer of Learning Projects, connecting learning outside of school with some of the goals and standards in school. Exploring how we can connect and blend these different elements of life provides us with new possibilities for teaching and learning.

Anti-Disciplinary Work and Thinking

In the MIT Media Lab, Ito requires students and faculty to be anti-discpilinary. If a person’s work and interests fit neatly into a single discipline, then he encourages them to go study in that discipline and not come to the Media Lab. Instead, he is looking for people who are willing to live, think and work in those vast spaces between the disciplines. As Ito explained, “We find that the space between the disciplines is actually bigger than the space in the disciplines.” This resonated with me. After all, the disciplines are the places of tamed, tagged, and sorted thinking. Innovation on the edges is far from any of those things, hence it is arguably anti-disciplinary.

Of course, if we take anti-disciplinarity to its logical conclusion, it could be seen as challenge to much of established educational institutions, colleges and departments nicely labeled and organized with carefully built fences between them, often restricting what can be studied, how it can be studied, and who can or can’t teach. Anti-disciplinary is not just about building connections across disciplines (interdisciplinary) or even mastering and mixing multiple disciplines (multidisciplinary). This is about untamed learning. It is the distinction between visiting a lumber yard and wandering in the forest.

The Artist-Designer-Scientist-Engineer

Ito’s vision is not just to get artists, designers, scientists and engineers working together. He argued for learning that cultivates people who are all four of these, perhaps with one more prominent than the others, but all four are present. As explained by Ito, the artist is interested in art, not usefulness. The designer, however, is interested in problem-solving, solution-thinking. The scientist is driven to discover something new, often just for the sake of advancing scientific knowledge. And the engineer (having some similarities with the designer) is trying to figure out constraints and build something useful. As such, Ito argued for learning that helped people nurture each of these four ways of thinking and being.

Ito’s 9 Principles of Learning

Ito concluded his talk by sharing something that he keeps on the wall of his office, his principles of learning. He didn’t explain every one of them, but simply scanning this list is enough to prompt some wonderfully engaging conversations and thought experiments about education.

  1. Resilience over strength – Being and looking strong is one thing, but resilience is not just about being strong. It is about struggling, facing difficulty, bouncing back, and persevering.
  2. Systems over objects – Objects often mean very little apart from systems. So, why not start with the environment, contexts, and systems. From there we develop the objects.
  3. Disobedience over compliance – As Ito noted, “You don’t get a Nobel prize for doing what you’re told.” So, why don’t we find ways to encourage a bit more disobedience in learning environments. I think it is important to distinguish between disobedience and dishonor. I agree with Ito’s point, but I would frame us as needing to encourage humble disobedience, or maybe a mix of deep honor and daring disobedience.
  4. Pull over push – Ito said, “You can’t get serendipity unless you are looking around you and pulling.” Pushing is organizing/coordinating everything. “Really try to embrace serendipity and pull things together.”
  5. Compasses over maps – A map tells you where to go, but in a world of constant change, what if the continents shifted and you still found yourself using an old map? Instead, a compass helps us figure out where we are going even when the world around us is shifting. What are the implications for what and how we go about education? Is it possible that we are teaching students from maps that are increasingly outdated? How do we give them the tools to navigate life and learning in a constantly changing world?
  6. Emerging over authority – Authority has a place, but on the edges of innovation, it may fail us. That is where we need to hypothesize, imagine, and create…to reach out for or generate the emergent.
  7. Risk over safety – It isn’t just about being safe. If our goal is safety, then maybe we should all just stay in our houses. Instead, it is about nurturing the competence and confidence to take calculated risks.
  8. Practice over theory – Theory has a place, but if it doesn’t work in practice, what is the point? So, practice is where we discover what does and doesn’t work. From there we can revise, refine, change or create helpful theories.
  9. Learning over education – Ito explained how he uses the two terms. “Education is what the system does to us.” “Learning is what we do for ourselves.”

Ito’s keynote was an excellent start to what I hope to be a rich and rewarding gathering at Blackboard World 2014. I commend the company for investing in speakers who challenge things as they are in education, and who invite us to imagine new and promising possibilities for teaching and learning.

How to Read & Stay Informed about Educational Research

There is much that we can learn by staying abreast of current and emerging research in the field of education. I know that some educators who do not enjoy it, but the rewards make up for the challenge, and the more one reads, the easier it gets to make sense of that reading. What would happen if more educators took a few hours a month to review the current and emerging literature, discuss a bit of it with colleagues, and use that learning to benefit their work? I suspect that we could see some notable benefits. Toward that end, here are a few resources to get interested us started in that direction.

How to Read Academic Research (video) – This light-hearted 12-minute video provides useful and practical tips on how to read academic articles. –

How to Read Education Data Without Jumping to Conclusions – This Atlantic article provides a number of practical tips on what to do and not do when reading educational research. –

What is Scientifically Based Research? A Guide for Teachers – This easy-to-read article explains the importance of reading research as a teacher. It also provides tips on how to do it. –

Using Research and Reason in Education: How Teachers Can use Scientifically Based Research to Make Curricular and Instructional Designs – This is an extremely valuable article. It provides a strong rationale for reading research as an educator. However, it also gives a through introduction to the types of research out there, the role of different types of research, as well as how this research can help inform decisions as an educational professional. –

Open Access Eduaction Journals – There are a growing number of excellent education journals that are freely available online in full-text. This long list is a great source for beginning a review of the research. Consider setting the goal of identifying and reading one article a day for a week on a topic of interest. It doesn’t take much time and makes for a rich and rewarding learning experience. - 

Educational Technology Journals – This page from Northern Illinois University provides a long list of different educational technology journals. Consider taking time to visit the sites of a number of these journals. Look for topics and articles of interest. Consider reading a few of them. If some are not available, try using your local library to get copies of them. Some of the most current research is often not immediately available online in full-text. -

What Works Clearinghouse – This US government site provides an extensive collection of research-based practices for education. Note that there is a dedicated section for educational technology, including access to some research reports.  -

How Do Teachers Read Research? – This is an older study about how different teachers read research articles. As you read it, consider how you read research. Do you read educational research? When? Why? How? Use this as a chance to reflect on the role that reading research plays in your own life as a professional educator. –

Creating an APA Format Annotated Bibliography – This 9-minute video walks you through the process of creating an annotated bibliography. This is simply a list of research around a common theme, with short annotations after each item. This is how I got started in my review of research in the field. I picked an education topic of personal interest and gave myself the assignment of developing 10-20 source annotated bibliographies around that topic. These became wonderful tools for making more informed decisions in my work. In only a few months, I was amazed at how much I could learn. –