Animation + Sir Ken Robinson = Awesome

Back in July 2009, while I was working at Blackboard, I was called into an emergency meeting just before BbWorld 2009 was set to start. We were already onsite, maybe a day or two out from the event.

Sir Ken Robinson, our opening keynote speaker, was ill. He would not be able to attend. Cue event planner heart attack.

Luckily we were able to get a substitute speaker at the (very) last minute. Seth Godin stepped in and spoke to our audience. I didn’t actually get to see Mr. Godin speak that day, but I was lucky enough to see him speak at Educause 2011.

But 3 years later, I still haven’t seen Sir Robinson speak. So I found this animation fascinating and I’m more eager than ever to hear him speak in person. Take 11 minutes and watch – this is worth your time! It certainly made me think.

We’re getting our children through education by anesthetizing them. I think we should be doing the exact opposite. We shouldn’t be putting them to sleep, we should be waking them up to what they have inside of themselves.”

Thanks to Karen Yoshino, my old Bb colleague, who shared this on Pinterest where it caught my attention!


Session Wrap-up: Planning for Informal Learning Spaces

Planning for Informal Learning Spaces
Sandra Miller, Director of Instruction and Research Technology, William Paterson University of New Jersey

William Paterson University knew that much learning happened outside the classroom – so they wanted to provide intentional support for social strategies with human centered design and support for diverse, personally owned devices. Their goal was to make the entire campus (as much as possible) a learning space. Here are my notes from the session:

  • Over the years, spaces were created on campus (some of which included high-tech elements) to meet the goal of making the whole campus a learning space.
  • They created a cross-functional group to evaluate and improve informal learning spaces. The group initially did not include students, but they quickly realized that needed to change.
  • To start, they did an audit of the spaces on campus.
  • After an inventory, they did a careful labeling of spaces (when considering updates, knowing which spaces were which was important – by their nature many did not have room #s!)
  • As part of the project, they surveyed students on spaces.
    • This was a huge effort – historically responses to surveys were very low. By using iPads and iPods to collect data, they had a much higher response to the survey than average.
    • They included open-ended questions like “What are your favorite spaces on campus?” and “What do you like most about the spaces you use most?”
    •  The responses were surprising. Students liked quiet above all when choosing informal learning space. 50% compared to next highest…9% that they liked the space.
    • When asked what they wanted informal learning space, students said: quiet, wireless, and comfortable seating.
    • They also found that most of the time, students wanted to study alone – in sight of other students!
    • Using the data they collected, they were able to renovate several existing areas to be more student-focused.

All and all an interesting session with lots of photos; we got to guess students’ survey answers before we saw the data. I know I was surprised by what the students wanted in their learning spaces! Thanks to William Paterson University for presenting at MARC12.

Session Wrap-up: Technology Project Selection and Governance at Loyola University Maryland

Technology Project Selection and Governance at Loyola University Maryland
Richard Sigler, Director, PMO, Elena Bozylinski, Senior Project Manager, Scott Sax, Associate Director, Loyola University Maryland

This was the most broadly applicable session I’ve attended at an Educause event, primarily because its subject – project management – is important to any business or organization. I learned quite a bit in the session that I plan to use for my own projects.

When a new executive stepped onto the scene at Loyola, she asked the IT department for a list of projects currently being worked. The team started writing – and realized they had long lists of unfinished, overlapping and redundant projects. They decided to implement a project management office (PMO). Most of the session focused on project selection, which seems to be the biggest problem for most. Here are highlights from my notes during the session:

  • The goals for a PMO are to invest well, increase success, lower risk, increase maturity and show progress (of projects)
  • And, to a great extent, simplify. Think of the directions for a kid’s playhouse and how complicated they can be. Now think about how IKEA simplifies those directions so that anyone can manage it.
  • The first step: Choosing the right projects. At Loyola:
    • Proposal: Organization member fills out an online form describing what they need (the pitch) – why, what, needs, benefits. The form outputs a proposal document for review by PMO.
    • Investigation: An IT director uses proposal to investigate project costs (both $ and people) and creates an estimate for project
    • Scoring: Data is entered into a scorecard. Scores impact (cost efficiently, regulatory important, transformative-ness*), risk (complexity, ongoing management, integration requirements, administration questions).
    • Check out their session’s PowerPoint and take a look at their scoring cards and PMO software choices.
    • Choosing projects for portfolio:
      • Class X – regulatory
      • Class 0 – project already underway
      • Class 1 – High impact, low cost = quick win
      • Class 2 – High impact, high cost = large, strategic
      • Class 3 – Low impact, low cost = nice to have
      • Class 4 – Low impact, high cost = declined (there is an appeal process, but generally, no can do).
    • Loyola schedules based on classification against resources (lower priority projects may fall off schedule).
  • Step two: Portfolio project scheduling. Loyola uses At Risk to do project and portfolio management. It allows high-level scheduling based on estimates. Both step one and two are great tools to help set expectations of organizations for IT requests.
  • Question: “Maintenance. How do you add it into the process?”
    • Loyola is still figuring maintenance out – with every project, the maintenance element grows.
    • However, use these tools to present data to justify new resources; also can show if project can make anything run more efficiently.
  • Question: “Emergency management?”
    • Loyola is still wrestling with it. However portfolio priority does help them make decisions. And IT directors have some level of flexibility within the system.

Great, informative session by Loyola University Maryland. A big thank you to them for presenting at MARC12. I’ll be thinking about how to use some of these steps in (of all things) managing my roller derby league’s projects. We have a lot to do this year 🙂

*Definition: transformative-ness: The quality that indicates the prospective amount of transformation something may bring about.” That’s my made-up word and I’m stickin’ to it.

MARC12 Wrap-up and Keynote Highlights

#MARC12 was my first regional Educause conference, after many years of attending the big annual Educause Conference. I could only stay one day, but I came away with lots of good info and would recommend the regional conference to anyone looking for an informative (and more intimate) Educause event. Here are some resources; please share yours in the comments!

Keynote: Disrupting Ourselves: Cherished Assumptions, New Designs, and the Problem of Learning in Higher Ed

The conference opened with a great keynote by Randall Bass of Georgetown University. Bass is a very engaging speaker with a delightful habit of using pop culture movies and TV to illustrate his ideas (sharing, for instance, an anecdote about the debut Blackboard Collaborate on campus launched a series of “Groundhog Day” conversations – I could instantly imagine what those might sound like). Here are some highlights from the session:

  • “Our concept of learning has expanded at a rate far outpacing our notion of teaching.”
  • “At the same time as we are getting serious about being accountable for what students are learning…our understanding of learning is expanding in ways that are at least partially incompatible with our structures.”
  • He believes that we are moving into the “post-course era,” away from the course/curriculum as the center of the learning experience.
  • Outcomes associated with high-impact learning experiences (integrate and synthesize, patterns, applying knowledge in diverse situations, viewing issues from many perspectives) are associated with practices like collaborative assignments, study abroad, undergraduate research, and internships – most outside the standard classroom curriculum. His question: Can we continue to operate on the assumption that the formal curriculum is the center of the undergraduate experience? Pithy quote: “low-impact practices – formerly known as the curriculum.”
  • He described the features of a participatory culture – low barrier to entry, sense of connection to other members, ownership, and asked “how often do students feel that something is at stake in the standard curriculum?”
  • So how do you disrupt the status quo to bring more of those experiences into the curriculum? One option is to make the courses more like high-impact practices – more participatory, virtual labs, social tools.
  • “We are so invested in changing FACULTY. We need to change the course.”
  • He described a fundamental and strategic shift from changing faculty to changing course structures so that faculty are changed when they teach them. Moving toward a team-based design – technologists, classroom instructors, library and content management, instructional design – all parties working to improve the course, to structure it around the learner.
  • He also spent some time discussing ePortfolios as a “bridge and integrator of the delivered, the experienced and the lived curriculum.”

At the end of his keynote, Bass shared part of an essay from a colleague who had passed on. I spent some time trying to recreate it from memory for these pages, but it wasn’t the same. You’ll have to trust me that it was worth it. I wish you could have been there listening with me!

P.S.  If you find this interesting, some of the same themes were explored in Bass’ ELI 2011 session, available on podcast here.

Civics Education in (Very Exciting) Practice

I really enjoyed the first day of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Educause conference yesterday. Wish I could have stayed another day!  But I made the most of my time and took in some great sessions. I’ll buck tradition and start with the last session I attended, as it’s the perfect follow-up to the blog post I published Wednesday, The Case for Civic Education.

Session: Making Teaching and Learning Authentic: Engagement through Social Media in Politically Charged Times – James A. Jorstad, Director of Academic Technologies, University of Wisconsin-LaCross

Jorstad says that authentic learning focuses on real world, complex problems and solutions. Taking a look at this video, one of many he posted during the Wisconsin budget protests, I’d say that his choice of subject matter qualifies. One of the main themes repeatedly discussed during my session at the Brookings Institute earlier this week was making government studies more relevant – creating a disposition in students to want to learn about civics. Jorstad is doing just that. What a wonderful way to involve students – taking events happening in their backyards and bringing it into the classroom in real-time.

Jorstad is a regular contributor on CNN’s iReports and during his session he shared several of the videos he took during the 2011 Wisconsin budget protests. He uses his experience to help students understand the power – both positive and negative – of social media; it’s also an opportunity to discuss how to disseminate fact from fiction in new and traditional media.

His videos of the protests, posted on iReports started getting big views very quickly – he estimates 200-300 views every 30 seconds. As the views climbed,  CNN vetted the post. Then his video started showing up on other sites, including Forbes. As the video went “viral” and from iReport to actual news, eventually the attribution was lost (I think it’s like a game of telephone…the farther the video gets from its original posting, the less likely people will include the creator). He noted that attribution is one of the challenges of a social media-driven news report.

Jorstad highlighted some of the comments made on his videos. Many were extremely hostile – another symptom of the lack or ineffectiveness of civics education that was noted in the Brookings panel. In fact, his videos of the protest were often flagged as inappropriate (which, ironically seemed to work against those trying to get the video taken down; Jorstad believes that it actually raised the viewer numbers by making the video “forbidden” for short periods of time). The comments on his video of Jesse Jackson speaking on campus were openly racist. Jorstad decided to leave the comments there, instead of flagging for removal, so he could use them as discussion points in class.

Other notes from the session:

  • He uses media examples as a tool to teach about how to effectively critique news sources. He shared a Fox news report showing “union protest violence” that actually contained footage from an incident in California. Many accept what they see on the news as truth. He uses different news sources to teach students to view media with a critical eye.
  • He had an expert evaluate his videos and his estimate was 200,000 attendees at the protest. Press reported “10s of thousands.” Again a reason to look critically at our media sources.
  • Jorstad shared his videos with students in class and asked students if their mothers would have attended the event. Most said yes – and many said their mothers were at the protests!
  • Jorstad surveyed his students (I believe political science and English classes). Over half identified themselves as Republican, with a strong bent toward the conservative Tea Party. Yet when asked which news network they thought was most biased, Fox was the runaway “winner” while CNN was considered the most impartial.
  • Students seem to realize they may rely too strongly on social media, saying something to the effect of “we know we already have poor interpersonal skills”
  • He encouraged everyone to go to and submit a story. A great learning experience for anyone!

Jorstad shared this link to resources from his session. I would add links to his iReports page on CNN, and his Learning Space blog.

All and all a great session – and I think any teacher might look to current events and social media as a way to engage students, especially in history, civics and government. I say steal this idea, teachers.   🙂

The Case for Civic Education

Hello everyone! Hope you all enjoyed your holidays. I, for one, enjoyed my semi-annual “quiet period.”

Yesterday I attended an interesting event at the Brookings Institute. Spurred by the publishing of “Teaching America: The Case for Civic Education,” several of the contributing authors came together to discuss the state and future of civics, government and U.S. history in K-12 and higher education. I was excited to see the event announced – I have a special interest in the topic.

I hate talking about politics. It’s gotten so bad in recent years that I find myself avoiding the news – even that haven for young news avoiders, the John Stewart Show. The hyperbole, the unwillingness to have civil discussions, the media screaming – it’s enough to make me want to hide under a table. Incredibly, it’s a problem should a politician ever have the audacity to change a position (or their minds) about an issue. Of course they do – and blithely pretend that they’d always thought that way!

But this avoidance is not a good thing. And I am the first to admit that I take many political conversations too personally. I remove myself rather than face challenging conversations. I am part of the problem! So I approached the panel with two goals – to hear from some experts how #EDU may hold answers to resolving the problem and to gain insight into how I might personally work toward being more civically engaged.

The panel included John Bridgeland, author and recently appointee to President Obama’s White House Council for Community Solutions (he also served as director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under George W. Bush) and David Feith, Chairman of Civic Education Initiative. The panel was moderated by William Galston of the Brookings Institute.

In addition to some grave statistics about the lack of civics, government and history knowledge among both kids and adults, two key themes were touched on again and again: First, the current state of politics is marked by an unwillingness – and perhaps an inability – of government leaders to work together to solve problems. Secondly, the lack of knowledge in (and, more importantly, the lack of disposition to learn) civics is rampant, with no clear action plan to resolve.

The focus of the discussion was broad enough that specific #EDU action items are rare in my notes. But there are some good nuggets to share.

I’ll start by sharing a great #EDU memory from Mr. Bridgeland’s keynote. He recalls being asked to play the part of a lawyer for Dred Scott in school. He had to prepare a case and present it to the class. He still recalls everything about the experience…in the end, he won the case, winning for Dred Scott where history had failed him. This awakened an interest in government for him that was never extinguished.

Repeatedly, each panelist brought up the need for enthusiastic and passionate teachers in the subject. Adm. Michael Ratliff, President of the Jack Miller Center discussed his higher education-focused summer institutes where professors (perhaps focused on research) can re-awaken the passion that brought them to the study of civics.

I have to say that I sat up and paid attention when Seth Andrew, Founder and Superintendent of Democracy Prep Public Schools (absolutely the most passionate member of the panel) offered harsh criticism of K-12 education. Sounding a wake-up call that today’s civil rights issue is fixing our schools, he argued that reports, statistics and policies don’t matter if you don’t have a passionate, effective teacher in the classroom. His charter schools serve a diverse, almost 100% low-income student population. When he gets a new sixth-grader he can’t teach them civics right away – he has to teach them how to read.

More interestingly, he asserted that you must first create the disposition in kids to learn civics. He talked about taking his kids out to help sign up voters with hats that say “we can’t vote, but YOU can,” an activity that clearly gets his kids fired up and wishing they were able to vote. He talked about showing kids how they could be involved in the civic process even without the ability to vote. I really enjoyed his short remarks – he was one of the speakers I would most enjoy seeing again.

One of the more interesting moments of the 2 hour session was also the most fleeting. Peter Levine, Director of CIRCLE and Research Director of Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University spoke briefly about his work on civics education. He clearly is up to his elbows in policy work. He opened his remarks with a thrown-away statement that he’s not sure at all that students don’t KNOW civics …implying that his reading of the data was different and somewhat controversial. But he didn’t elaborate!!! Tease. He did go on to agree with Seth Andrew that creating a disposition in learners to get engaged in civics was of utmost importance. But I am left wanting more. Much more.

The question and discussion period was short. There was a pointed question about the general white guy-ness of the panel. Mr. Feith struggled with the question but Seth Andrews came out swinging again as a self-professed white guy running schools that are serving a community of color. He feels that engaging these communities, which are currently even less likely to participate in the process, is of utmost importance.

Overall, the panel could have been a bit smaller so we could hear more about the actual work happening to improve civics education in their respective areas of expertise. I definitely wanted to hear more from Mr. Levine and Mr. Andrew. But all and all a good introduction to the topic.

But perhaps like many students leaving our schools, I’m left wishing I knew more 🙂 What about you? Do we have any government or U.S. History teachers among my readers? Share your stories! How do you inspire your students to get engaged in the civic process?

PS. I do hope I caught all the spelling errors in this post. I have discovered that while my new tablet does many things – it does NOT do spell check. And neither do the mobile versions of gmail, WordPress, or my document editing software. Sigh. 🙂 But I wanted to get this out to you and I am not at my home office today. Hope to see some of you at the regional Educause this afternoon in Baltimore!

“Rebooting” Higher Education

The fabulous Jan Poston Day invited me to an event at the American Enterprise Institution. The AEI is “a private, nonpartisan, not-for-profit institution dedicated to research and education on issues of government, politics, economics and social welfare.”

The panel was called “Rebooting Higher Education: Kaplan CEO Andrew Rosen’s “” and the Future of Postsecondary Education in America” and, of course, featured Mr. Rosen. The panel was well moderated by Andrew Kelly, an AEI research fellow for higher education policy. Also on the panel were Diane Auer Jones from the Career Education Corporation; Jeff Selingo from The Chronicle of Higher Education; and Zakiya Smith, of the White House Domestic Policy Council.  Mr. Rosen’s book, “ Rebooting for the new talent economy” was the impetus for the panel.

After a short introduction, Mr. Rosen opened by sharing a few quotes about higher education:

  • These colleges are resorting to all kinds of devices to get students.
  • These institutions are universities in aspiration rather than fact…they are pretenders to the title of university.
  • These schools are robbing the US Treasury.
  • These colleges compete unfairly with established colleges.
  • The students who attend these colleges are not college material.

In the first of a few surprises for me, these comments were NOT made about for-profit institutions like Kaplan. These were all directed at the “land grant” schools in the second half of the 19th century that wanted to teach the children of non-elites practical skills like agriculture, science and engineering instead of more classical liberal arts studies. Iowa State University, University of California and Rutgers were all land grant universities.

Really? Cause I don’t know about you, but I assumed these quotes were about for-profit universities. Don’t lie now. You did too 🙂

Mr. Rosen went on to talk about how higher education has a rich history of disruption. Oxford and Cambridge didn’t think much of Harvard at first. He asserts that today’s “pretenders” become tomorrow’s leaders. But history also says that higher education and government won’t reform themselves. It takes other factors to ‘shove’ them into action. And Mr. Rosen says that the shove is coming.

More to come! I wanted to share what I could write up in the wee small hours of the morning. In the meantime, check out some video clips from the panel here.

Taking it to the Courts – Discipline, Part II

Second in a series. You can find the first here.

I’d like to share the opening of a recent Washington Post article with you:

SPRING, TEX. — In a small courtroom north of Houston, a fourth-grader walked up to the bench with his mother. Too short to see the judge, he stood on a stool. He was dressed in a polo shirt and dark slacks on a sweltering summer morning.

“Guilty,” the boy’s mother heard him say.

He had been part of a scuffle on a school bus.

I had to think about this for a second. Do you know how old fourth graders are? They are 9 or 10 years old. Reading this, my thoughts immediately went to a young teenager, but a teenager none the less. But a 9 year old? Wow.

Does anyone think this is ok?

Ok this is an emotional reaction to a emotion-provoking piece of writing. So I’ll try to step back a bit. I’ve recently read a few articles on the so-called “criminalization” of student discipline. I’ve written once before on “zero-tolerance” from my own perspective.

Zero tolerance doesn’t seem to be working. School districts are considering dropping zero tolerance policies. There is evidence of racial tolerance (which seems to imply that zero isn’t really always zero, anyway).  It raises drop-out rates. In fact, one of the leading punishments for truancy is … wait for it … suspension. So, what do we do about it?

Jan Day pointed me to an article about Judge Steve Teske and his efforts to keep kids with minor discipline issues out of court. I highly recommend you take some time to read the article and click on some of the links. One of the interesting quotes, to me, is Teske’s recall of his own naughtiness during school:

Teske recalls pulling a prank at age 13 that set off his school’s fire alarm. He recalls the mass havoc that ensued. The threat of arrest. The terror he felt.

His principal prevailed in insisting the school system would mete out the punishment. “Would I even be a judge today had I gone to jail that day?” he asks.

He says he was inspired by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. In his district, he brought together parents, teachers, police, social-services and students to discuss better ways of doing things. In the end, his approach is not easier. It takes time and is not a cookie-cutter implementation – there is a lot of gray.

Now student incidents are managed in school more – referrals to juvenile court fell more than 70% over 7 years. Weapons incidents have dropped. Tips on serious offenses improved, as did relations between students and police.

And graduation rates are up 20% in that same timeframe. Other school districts are starting to take notice.

Teske shares an interesting metaphor in his blog.

Officer Robert Gardner, a veteran school police officer with Clayton County describes his student population using a lamb, sheep, and wolf allegory. Most of the student population is made up of sheep. They make noise, get into some trouble, but nothing major. They just make you mad from time to time.

The lambs are the nerds — always quiet and under the radar. They make up about 25 percent, at most, of the population.

The wolves — they are the dangerous students who come to school to wreak havoc and prey on others. They also make up no more than 2 percent of the population.

Gardner says his job is to focus on the wolves — the predators — the 2 percent. He says he can’t do it if he is arresting sheep.

But, let’s set aside stories of students referred to court for soda-pop possession, what about those kids who are clearly trouble – the “wolves?” Don’t we need to get them out of the classroom so we can focus on the kids who are there to learn? And what responsibility do we have to try and turn around those kids who do make trouble. Do we just give up?

A friend of mine shared a People Magazine article* about a judge in St. Louis making a difference in some of those wolves’ lives.

Here’s a little something about one of the students offered a chance at Edwards’ school:

In the fall of 2010, [16 year old] Jakayla Ivory stabbed a classmate in the neck with an ice pick during a fight.

Wow. That raises a different kind of emotion, right? This student had been kicked out of four schools since the seventh grade for various disciplinary problems. Now this violent encounter not only landed her in jail, but all but guaranteed her to be kicked out of school altogether, with all statistics about dropouts in front of her. But she was offered a life line.

Judge Jimmie Edwards started the Innovative Concept Academy in 2007 – an experimental school designed as a last resort for troubled and violent kids. The school takes the most desperate cases out of the justice system and gives them one last chance to change. Edwards, who sentenced hundreds of people to prison before moving to juvenile court, says “I knew I could do better than just taking away someone’s liberty.”

Beyond academics, close supervision and a strong, clear disciplinary approach, the school keeps students busy with after school problems and exposes them to new activities like golf, fashion, chess, and dancing.

These are students with difficult home lives and, often, quick tempers. But the students feel the change – Jakayla, above, raised her grades from F’s to B’s and C’s. She returned to public school, where is she now doing well. Other students have had similar turn-arounds. The article indicates that it’s too early to tell if the approach is working. But of 700 students enrolled since the start, only four have returned to the criminal justice system. That sounds like working to me.

We all are concerned about crime, the cost of keeping people in jail, how to prevent crime in our cities and communities. But we also think “We can’t save everyone! Some kids are just bad!” But perhaps Judge Edwards’ effort is well worth the time and energy. Maybe it would truly benefit all of us to think about how to help the toughest cases.

What do you think?


*I wish I could refer you to the article, but I can’t seem to find an online copy. However, if you also want to hear about Jackie O’s private life, check out this podcast of the magazine – the article starts just before the halfway point on the podcast. The article is in the October 10, 2011 issue of People Magazine and was written by Jeff Truesdell and Alex Tresniowksi.

Writing is Hard

*Note. I write this today in what could be described as a “crotchety old man” mood. I keep thinking things like “in my day we…” and “get off my lawn.”  So, you know, that’s something you should know. Not that I think this post would change dramatically!

I read a blog post in the Washington Post today regarding writing remediation for students going into college. The post was written by William G. Tierney, a professor of higher education and director of the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis at the University of Southern California and Stefani R. Relles, a former community college instructor and doctoral candidate at USC.

A few key points from their post:

  • Remedial courses are a bottleneck in higher education (and according to another article I read recently, a significant cost for many students)
  • Writing skills, especially, are lacking with many students never having written a formal paper longer than 2 or 3 pages.
  • More and more standardized testing is being done, with more and more classroom time devoted to prep. Yet research shows that timed essays on tests are “unreliable indicators of writing strength.”

I’m not that surprised. I’m a marketer. I’ve read lots of “content” from blog posts to emails to newsletters at places I’ve worked. And boy, the quality is often astoundingly poor. I don’t mean boring or with grammar issues – I mean unclear or confusing writing with little structure, muddled narrative. Not always. Not everyone. But often enough.

Of course, my perspective was shaped before I entered college in 1991. First, I hand-wrote most of my papers until my sophomore year in college (personal computers not being very prevalent at all).  Even when I typed papers, it was based on a hand-written copy.

Handwriting papers necessitated multiple writings of a paper – not only to correct spelling errors and grammatical issues but to incorporate revisions and corrections. My papers were littered with cross-outs and writing in the margins. My drafts became, quite literally, pictures of my writing process.

In both high school and college, I had multiple writing projects that took several revisions and weeks to complete. I had to write different kinds of projects – from creative pieces to speeches to research papers to summaries. It was a huge part of my learning experience and, for me anyway, more difficult and time-intensive than most tests.

Of course I had my challenges. When I am summarizing, I often write important text verbatim from the source without realizing it. So I had to be careful of unintended plagiarism. I also tend to write too much. Over the years strike-outs turned into regular use of the highlight/delete function.

I believe that this kind of writing not only developed my writing skills but also my ability to condense and analyze information, to think critically about what I was reading, and more. It also helped me develop a “voice” of my own* and learn how to write in different voices and styles depending on the situation.

The writing processes I learned are similar to what Tierney and Relles propose to reduce the need for writing remediation:  “Set specific and understandable goals. Teach students how to revise. Teach summarizing, not analyzing.** Require more and longer writing.”

But even these solutions are “controversial” in the words of the authors.

“Adopting [these kinds of solutions] would mean focusing on writing as process rather than as product, an unsettling break for those accustomed to exams and assignments without revision opportunities.”

In the authors’ Los Angeles high schools students take up to six state and district tests yearly — on top of midterms and finals. 94% pass the state exit exam. And yet 42% need remedial English. Should the test be harder? Test different things?

I’m not sure. I don’t think writing can always be tested in a few hours. My best writing is often done over days or weeks. And some teachers liked my writing better than others! There is an element of “art” to writing that I believe requires students to be exposed to a variety of resources and teachers over time. Can we standardize that? Do we want to?

Maybe all of this is much ado about nothing – maybe things haven’t changed that dramatically. Perhaps there are always going to be some folks who are more comfortable writing than others. And it’s not only people younger than me who struggle with writing (though my – admittedly anecdotal – experience is that folks older than me know their writing isn’t great, whereas younger folks tend to think theirs is just fine, even when it’s not).

What do you think? How do your kids’ classes manage it? Teachers, are you able to assign long writing projects and research papers? What is your experience?


*If you are reading this, you hopefully like my “talky, kinda casual, pretty human” voice of choice. And while I have issues with some of the poor writing examples I see (and the systematic neglect of writing skills implied by the discussed blog post), I don’t claim to be a grammarian! I don’t care if you put one or two spaces after your period. I don’t get up in arms if you use “it’s and its” incorrectly once in a while. I don’t believe perfect grammar is perfect writing. There’s more to it than that, if you ask me. And maybe you’re thinking “this Kerry Jo girl’s not even that good of a writer!” Maybe not! There’s the art sneaking in again.

**I bulked a little at the “not analyzing” bit. But I love their explanation:

“Critical thinking in and of itself is not a precursor of good writing. Putting thinking into words, sentences and paragraphs is the endgame, and that crucially involves the ability to summarize material, a more concrete and therefore teachable skill. If students are able to summarize what they have read, they can better grasp how to put together their own arguments.”

Educause Session Recap: Vendor-Higher Ed Software License Partnering in the Cloud

One of the sessions I sat in last week at Educause was regarding software licensing issues between higher education clients and vendors. I believe this session could have been an opportunity for some high drama, but the presenters kept the conversation positive and constructive. There are presentation bullet points available here and I encourage you to look them over if you are involved in purchasing from the school side or the vendor side. Here are my notes/recollections of the presentation:
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Speakers: Sharon P. Pitt, Executive Director, George Mason University
Henry E. Schaffer, Professor Emeritus, Coordinator of Special IT Projects & Faculty Collaboration, North Carolina State University
Sarah R. Stein, Associate Professor Communication, North Carolina State University

Budget is an issue when it comes to higher education purchasing. Vendors need to make money, and open source isn’t always going to be the best option. Vendors and HE need to work together to come up with models that work for both of them. The “cloud” is bringing up both challenges and opportunities when it comes to software licensing.

  • Cost: it won’t necessarily cost LESS for the license – but it might cost less for the overall infrastructure, especially hardware. It stretches not only the hardware purchasing dollar, but also lengthens the time hardware installation is useable when compared to desktop use.
  • Students can access software anywhere they are – at school, at home, at any campus – anywhere they have broadband.
  • Software in the cloud lends itself to software evaluation and decisions – especially when considering moving from a specific site (or department) license to a full institutional license.
  • Different versions of software can be used by different people, which allows you to serve both cutting edge and slow adopters.
  • Software as a service or in the cloud also allows institutions to really see how/when/where people are using it. You can also see which versions of the software are being used more (longtail environment).
  • Virtual labs allow HE to be “agnostic” when it comes to device use.


  • SW licensing criteria changes depending on the vendor. Some license by FTE, some by concurrent users, some by institution (or site) count.
  • Any cloud software worth using helps institutions track usage detail and tells institutions how usage is comparing to licensing – institutions want to remain compliant.
    • One interesting example: a vendor licensed content based on seats (concurrent users) at 50 users. When the school hit 51, the vendor sent a graceful email suggesting that the campus move to 75 users. This allowed the school to meet demand and remain compliant by anticipating users.
  • CPUs don’t matter anymore. Usage is by seats – student could use 3 devices, reality is that it’s one student.
  • HE is price sensitive but they are willing to pay for what they use.

Vendor challenges

  • How do we make money?
  • What happens if model changes?
  • How do we auditing license use (standards)?
  • HE sends mixed messages, even at the same institution.
  • Multiple levels of licensing (when a vendor has to pay another company for a sub-license, that can affect prices).
  • HE client must be educated on issues with any particular software licensing.

Advice for Vendors

  • It’s important to have predictable costs for licensing because of the HE budget cycle.
  • Bundles that don’t meet HE needs build resentment.

Example: A school has 800,000 students, an FTE of 250,000 and about 100 use the cloud concurrently, a few thousand in total use the software. HE clients do not want to pay for 250,000 users at this usage level. What makes sense for this example? What doesn’t?

Working together:

  • HE and vendors must work together to come up with what works and what doesn’t. Often, interactions with vendors are more fruitful when schools work together by state/organization or other affiliation.
    • One challenge – often vendors will enforce an NDA on pricing making it difficult to share licensing costs with others in the HE community.
  • Vendors need consistent feedback from HE to come up with licensing that works.
  • Compromises must be affordable for HE but HE must pay for what they use.
  • Generally this group preferred use licensing and concurrent licensing over access licensing. They will monitor and stay compliant.
  • If HE cannot afford license because of unrealistic expectations of access licensing, they will find other products.
  • HE wants to use your products! HE trains your future clients. Vendors and HE need to work together.


So, my thoughts.

My background is in sales and marketing for an HE focused software company. I am pretty darn pro-corporation! Just because someone makes money making tools for HE doesn’t mean they are any less passionate about education.

BUT I understand that HE institutions are bound by budgets and must choose the option which gives them the biggest bang for their buck. Corporations need to be fair. Why NOT offer concurrent user or actual usage-based licensing? It would give HE the opportunity to grow software use on campus while paying for no more than what they use. And it encourages HE to stay with your company rather than moving to an open source solution (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).

So what to do?

When I lived alone, milk was a problem. When I purchased a gallon, I never drank it before it went bad. But I was annoyed at buying a pint because it was so much more expensive when compared to buying a gallon. But I bought a pint anyway – I’m paying a premium for NOT buying in bulk. It’s a fair compromise.

I believe this is fair in software licensing too. Institutions would pay more per seat for fewer users, but they would only be purchasing what they actually use. This is probably why consortium licensing works so well for some institutions. It allows them to get “bulk” pricing while only purchasing what they need.

Just my two cents of course! I’m sure it could get more complicated. Can companies (especially smaller ones) survive making high-end cloud-based software at lower licensing levels? Will they need to put a minimum # on licensing? How will costs compare to open source options? These are all good questions.

I’m glad that George Mason and NC State started the conversation!