Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ This Is IT

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

May 27, 2005

Jeff Gray
When IT Meets IT

Traditionally there has been a wall between IT and educators. Today's talk is about how to bridge that gap. Where the relationship started, where people are currently at, and where we can go to bridge that gap.

Traditionally, classrooms were not distributed. There was not a lot of technology; they were self contained. In the last two decades, we have introduced a ton of technology. Almost like future shock. But support was still localized. Then came the internet factor. The way we communicate changed. In the early 90s, we saw a hige explosion. By 2010, a lot of people will be looking to the internet for 'just in time' information.

This has been because of two people: Time Berners-Lee, who brought us HTML, and Mark Andreesen, who brought is the browser. The browser brought us the image and the hyperlink. That's when most people heard about the internet.

What has dthis done to education? It has added a huge communications component. How many people use Blackboard here? The way we get information has totally changed. It has allowed learning to be free and distributed. And as educators you have access to tons of information that you might not have even known about. It allows this rich information to infuse itself into the classroom.

IT, up until the internet, had support - large mainframe, networking a bit - but when the internet his, there was an increase in the number of things that had to be supported. HTTP, websites, blogs. A lot of services. Security and access. Other mission critical stuff. These are the kinds of things that are squeezing the brows about.

So the line was drawn, with information technology one one side and education on the other. It resonates, in corporate U.S. too. They are saying, "You want to do what?" They have no idea. The IT people, too. They kind of shied away as well. "Do I want to support five thousand students, in addition to everything else I do?" This happens in the corporate world as well, people trying to stay below the radar, doing what they want to do, avoiding the bandwidth police. But if they work together they can do more.

What do we need to do to build the relationship? Someone needs to take the first step. When I say 'we' I mean 'me'. When someone comes to me saying "I want a state based gaming engine" I want to know why. So I know you've done your research. So I can understand how it fits into the other services.

The ambassador: someone who can stand between education and IT. Someone who can translate what IT just told you. Those people sort of naturally evolve into those roles, you sort of naturally find them. For IT, you need to understand, you are targeting ecosystems, not just people. Not just the wires and the computers, but people. What kind of students you have. These people grew up with the internet. But if you're dealing with a very broad range of age groups, how do you support that. Profiling this ecosystem, it sounds like a great effort but it's not. Just need to do some research; your IT people will help you with that.

There are essentially four layers to the ecosystem: hosting systems, delivery networks, playback systems, and users. These all have to work together. You can't have something that works only at the end-user standpoint and doesn't work with the rest. People say, wouldn't it be great to take a palm into an operating room and access it wirelessly? Immediately, it goes through all these four things. How do you support that? Blackboard, same thing. These are the things you need to be aware of. You need at least a glimpse of each one of these. Software running on a server with a database. you say, "I like this LMS." But then you say, it only runs on Linux and an xyz database. They're going to say, "Go away."

A horror story. I've seen people develop hours of video training. It works on real Media. Good technology. The bandwidth. It was fine. But when they got to the server, they found they were running NT, and they had to pay extra license fees for more than ten users. It was too expensive. They spent tens of thousands of dollars compressing video they can't use. That can happen to anyone. Think about that when you do videoconferencing.

Anotherthing, when the bandwidth police come calling because you've started using streaming audio, these are the sorts of things they're worried about. It can begin comprimising not only mission critical applications but otherones. You can start seeing some of these dowload times. If a student clicks on a page and it takes them 17 seconds to see an image, the acceptance rate goes down. If they have to download a 7 meg plug-in to get started, the acceptance rate goes down. The better you understand that, you can strategize that, and your acceptance rate goes up. Google - they wait 8 seconds for a page to download, and if it doesn't they move on. And that's for stuff they want to know.

Anybody use pocket PCs, Blackberrys? The range of devices, of connections, are scattering all over the place. Open WiFi. People are connecting to content where you never thought they would. I just had a coffee; peopel are connecting to content in the coffee shot. Also, remember, not everybody is connecting the same way. They might be in place where there's so much noise I can barely hear audio. They are using a lot of devices, not just traditional laptops. Pocket PCs are becoming huge. Just be aware that there's certain considerations; it's not 100 percent translatable. Working with IT will definitely help you.

Blended learning. It's a little bit of an enigma. How do you qualify content to fit into different buckets of delivery. We had IBM managers who had to fly in from all over the world and had to sit through four weeks of training. So we instituted a blended learning material that dropped that down to four days. And learning went up. We divided content into 'need to know' and 'reference material'. Interactive gaming. Conflict situations. Every so often we would hook up with them via a synchronous website, so we could meet with them. The classroom ended up being a much more rich experience. I didn't have to level-set. They should know the pre-reqs. We could do a much deeper dive into what should be the good stuff.

A few things to think about: ongoing just-in-time. In groups that understand that learning is not an event but a way of life, you get some cohesiveness. It gives you an opportunity to touch your students on an ongoing basis. In the corporate world we do this kind of interactive communication. Email - they check their email every day, why not touch them there. Interactive emails. In corporations, you have information that stays in silos. In email - we actually did gaming.

These ADD people - these are sales people - how do you grab them? We just want to teach one or two thinsg. We did games - they didn't even know they were learning. And being tested - we tracked everything. And email - IT will not normally complain. Normally. But it puts the information in their inbox. They keep it; people go back and look. And when you start naming contributors, people send i nstuff because they want their story, because they want their name in there. Tools - we gave them tools to help them do their work.

One piece we often miss in learning - we miss the emotional part. What gets people to come back is that they have an experience that they like. That's why we like classes, we can look at them in the eye and get the emotional response. That's why we do video. It had nothing to do with learing - these were just sometimes crackpot stuff. But they watched them, they sent them to their friends, they clicked on the tool - and we had them hooked.

Need-to-know, FAQ, reference materials. From an IT standpoint, these are low-barrier entries. We can use WebX. But it can push the requirements on the host; if you're pushing out PowerPoints with audio, video with slides, the bandwidth police are going to want to talk to you. When you say 'video' and 'deployment' IT becomes red in a hurry. They say, what kind of video do you want to distribute, what's the medium - there's a cost to that. How many of you are using Windows boxes? There's a thing called Windows media, you can use it free. Most of these publish-to-web have a small install, if at all - these can be used a lot. These can be used not only for synch but for asynch.

Interactive modules and simulations. We do simulation training - how to fly a DC10, how to sell coke. Gaming, interactive modules, allow practising - I was talking earlier about role-plays - these types of deliverables can help you do that. And when you're looking at traditional CBT training - the skill sets of people developing that go up a bit. It can exponentially go up. It can also be a volitile area for your IT. In 1997 we started taking those CD-ROMs and putting them up on the internet - it became a huge contributor to that wall going up, there are so many things it can hit. [tree-based simulation with video demonstrated]

Discussion boards, chats, blogs - those are in valuable because now we haqve a community of learners that have also become contributors. The reflective process - when people are posed with a question and they have time to reflect - they give back repsonses that are much more rich than they would normally be. So how do you harvest that? This would be a good placve to use repositories.

WebX, Centra - great tools. You can touch people with them. Video-conferencing. That technology has morphed tremendously. It's on a fast-track right now. Four years ago you would use telephone lines. We used to have stuttering dialogue. The technology essentially masked any emotional relationship. All you were seeing was the technology. Video is video when they don't see the technology. These technologies now are changing; it's running on top on an IP system, the capturing and playback are infinitely better. Really good video quality. Think about this, know about this. But bandwidth, again - be sensitive about that.

Classroom - most of you do most of your work there. The classroom has changed. Many people can't operate the equipment there. IT qualifies some of that technology and implements that - make sure IT understands your needs. They buy based on specs and price, not needs. And they can help you develop some of these games. We have developed a lot of games for classrooms - Jeopardy, for example. People love that. Horse-races - we would test them for knowledge, but they could express that by betting on horses. It was just a fun way of doing something that was nothing more than multiple-choice single-answer. There's a lit of free gaming shells, like that horse racing game, a gold game. You just populate an XML file, it reads the file, it plays itself out in a game situation. You need a shell - you need a process and a methodology that allows you to change the game quickly. - they ahve a ton. Go to

Student tracking and LMS integration. There are some bigger groups - AICC, ADL-SCORM, reusable information objects, SCOs, the object model. You're probably going to be looking at the SCORM model for a lot of your stuff. It's describing resources, so they can be harvested. You need to be careful when you're starting to do this, how you describe those. Very important. You need to come up with a standard. Because if you're not using the same tagging structure, you can't find it. Also you need to do it for legacy or retired content. You want it out of the system - you're not teaching COBOL any more, you want it out.

Prototype your stuff. Whatever you're trying to develop, don't let it debut on stage without going through the Green Room. Again, itr's a question of acceptance level. You have to take into consideration a lot of different things. We have to become learners ourselves.

Getting students ready: make sure they understand what that process is going to be. If you're going to add an installation proicess, acceptance levels will go down. There will be support issues. And will they have the technical expertise to do it. I've seen brilliant educational products, but they needed five plug-ins in order to run. It never worked. Minimize installations. Working with IT will help you sort of some of this stuff out. Say, "I know you're concerned about bandwidth, but, I have an idea - can you help me do it?" Ninety percent of the solutions we implement don't involve an install of any sort. Installs raise bandwidth, support and security issues.

Be sensitive about your choice of media formats. Reduce image size. Another horror story - we lost a Fortune 100 client because we didn't properly compress an audio file. It happened to be the first one; people thought their computers had locked up. Video - remember, video over HTTP occupies multiple requests. It's actually pseudo-streaming - it's actually download and play. True streaming is different - it allows bandwidth detection - they get the best video they can depending on their connection. Real, Quicktime, even Flash - but Windows Media will be for most of you your lowest barrier - your IT people will like you if you bring that as your solution. If you are using video, just think about a few things. If you just want to stick it on the web, it's not going to work.

Finally - just keep up to date with your technologies. It doens't mean reading 20 technical guides, but just keep up. It gives you new ways of doing things that might be better. Bringing those petitions to IT, saying, can you at least look at this. You will make friends when you say, "I'm concerned about you supporting this." Be aware, if you are having trouble getting support, the technology probably probably won't be there very long. There's a lot of consolidation happening.


Clarence Potvin
College Boreal
Not Another Platform

Why did we develop our own platform. We started off with responsibility for a wide part of Ontario. We had to get learning into the home - courses through videoconferencing. But then we had to do web-based stuff. 1997 - we looked at how we were going to implement all this stguff. We started by purchasing a laptop for everyone in the college. Then we gave them tech support. It was for themselves, not their course. We gave them three hours of support a week - they could take it or not, it was up to them. So we started off with the technology.

Then after that, we asked "How are you going to use PowerPoint?" There are times and places to use different types of tools. So we developed a pedagogical model - first stage is dependence, where they need a team (multimedia people, programmers, ID people...). Then we went into interdependence / counterdependence. WSe said, "start questioning what we do." So they started questioning the videoconferencing. They gave us feedback, a lot of feedback. They said the students have got to have laptops now. So that started. Then hopefully, independence.

This model pushed us to the next step, which was basically (in 2000) a consultation. Students, faculty, support. They came back to us and said, "This is what we want to do." A book, 15 pages. So we set up a group just for that. 2001, we started evaluating platforms - learning Space, Blackboard, webCT, Generation 21, Theorix. We made a grid. At the same time, our three designers were taking courses. We were seeing what those platforms were able to do. We were looking for:

  • ease of use. We were going, "wow, is this ever a lot of clicks."
  • integration of our pedagogical model
  • Partnerships
  • Cost - it cost us less to build our own than to buy (we don't sell ours - but the potential to build yourself is there - don't think it takes 500 people to build your own).

We selected Smartforce in 2002 - but then came Skillsoft, they say "we're not doing platforms anymore", they gave us our money back, we fixed it to make it work, but it wasn't want we wanted. We went, "not another platform, we've got to evaluate another platform." Then some people popped up, we can build it. So we gave them one month. Content only. They did it. So in 2003 we said, "build your own platform" and we hired two people. Two years later, we have about 5000 users. Priorities: student first, teacher second, institution third. The institution doesn't like that. But they liked that we could prove that we could save money.

So now we're delivering courses, programs. We're updating, developing new tools. And there is continuous training 9for staff - students should have zero training - they don't need help, we get one or two calls a month). For teachers, we show them how to improve their content. Eg., PowerPoint slides that are two large - we say, "take your calculator, think about it." We have students not only in Ontario, we have students in Africa. I went down there - they have 9,600 speed - and it worked. Now it's in the stage we're continuouslly adding (student-driven) new tools).

Students said - we don't want to search for things. Put it all right there. So the course front page has a calendar, gradebook, learning activities, table of contents, tools, messaging. The student can access a calendar, automatically tied together with learning activities. There's a 'criteria grid' - the teachers cannot submit an assignment without this. The teachers resisted this - because they didn't have criteria for marks. So we went back to pedagogical training. But now they save time in marking. Messages - come from separate courses, but are grouped together. It's very simple - no attachments allowed (and no spam, no viruses, etc). For the teachers, there is monitoring - how many times they visited, how long they stayed. For the teachers, the training, we made it clear that this was not to be punitive. That's not the point, it's to help with guidance, not grading. User profiles - very simple. Secondary email is supported. Custom fonts and sizes.

Our learning objects: we wanted to break them down into small enough pieces, and where they automatically go into the repository. As soon as a teacher puts something up, it automatically goes into the repository and follows the teacher wherever they go. This belongs to the teacher. We are setting up systems to allow sharing. The administrators wanted to see the stuff, but we said no - it's theirs. But if we give you time, 20 hours a week, say, then it's ours -- and it goes into the college repository, and then everybody has those objects. They pull whatever they want, and build the course on the fly.

Messages: no limit to number of messages. Very simple form. Select the people you want to send it to.

Learning activities: this was the most important tool to build. We wanted to see everything in one page. We have a 'drop box' - he can submit anything he wants (within size limits). The assessment grid is on the submission / assignment page. If the assignment or grid changes, an email is sent to the student immediately. The second the due date hits, the teacher cannot change the marking grid. Students can erase submissions any time up to the deadline.

We hear all the time - a platform is a platform is a platform. Do they all do basically the same thing? yes. Can you build your own? Yes. You estimate - what's the cost of this? You build in all the costs - you need Oracle - what's the cost of this agin? How much for training again? By contrast - one person - $60 or $75K - and you have it all. You have choice too. You want an update - you don't have to pay $35K for a set of 7 tools you didn't want. And you get instant fixes. Before when there was a problem, we had to call Arizona, they'd say, OK, you're ticknumber 72, and we'll get back to you in a couple days. Or they would say, "It's not a major problem, you're the only ones who want it."

Note: this plafort is not sold or shared, but courses can be hosted for a fee.

Joan Vinall-Cox
Sheridan College
Free and Easy

BlinkX - it allows me to find things. It searches your files for you. [Uses to find today's talk].

These are cool tools - free and easy.

  • Webnotes - online stickies
  • Furl - allows you to put all your bookmarks online. Good if you use more than one computer. Lets you assign your own tags - I have my own category 'compcom'.
  • Flickr - online storage for images online. In the past 100 years, we have moved from being text-based to aurally and visually oriented. You can put in your pictures, they are very easy to upload.
  • Google Scholar - find more scholarly papers. Also, Google directory.
  • Blogger - free weblogs. Free. Very easy. One design teacher has students create an observational diary - they pick a location, they go back at different times, and they comment on it. Another has team blogs. See also this.
  • Wikipedia - an online encyclopedia - created by the users. And it's pretty accurate. It's the world mind. We are putting our knowledge up. I'm trying an experiment with some students, we found some wiki software for free. [Viewed Udell's Heavy Metal Umulaut screencast]
  • - for context. Small free download. Highlight text and click.
  • FreeMind - for mind-mapping. Inspiration is a mindmapping tool that is cheap, FreeMind is free.
  • - I paid more than $300 Cdn for the student EndNotes. It was wonderful. Easybib - if your students use APA, it's $6 per year, MLA is free. they just fill in the blanks (I don't think knowing how to format a bibliography is high level learning).
  • BlinkX - can even search TV.
  • Freeonlinesurveys - some advertising, but students can make their own online surveys. Very easy; you just fill stuff in.
  • Stephen's Web - OLDaily - a lot of the stuff is too technical for me, so I just ignore that.

Sheridan information tutorials - for example, this, made with Wink.

Cool tools: tey are free and usually wysiwyg, but you have to play with them. And you should share them with your colleagues and students. Sheridan - we went from nowhere to 6000 students on laptops in 5 years. We had to set up a PD committee - you didn't need to know anything to be on it, just willing to attend.

Adwoa Buahene and Giselle Kovary
n-gen people Performance


Talking about multigenerational student bodies, and especially GenX and GenY. Is there something unique about GenXers? We did research on these genrations as well as baby boomers and traditionalists. We published a white papar (it's downloadable). It was covered in the Globe and Mail last year.

Today we're going to have some fun with the GenYs, GenYs as students. You helped create them to be different and now you're going to meet them as individuals.

How do you define a generation? By years, sure. Or by demographics - rise and fall of populations. But sociologists say, let's look at defining events. We use demographics and events. Basically, GenYers are 17-24 year olds.

Relationship with authority: you may have thought you automatically deserve respect. That's gone - what matters now is competence. They want to know, can you teach me? Can you help me? Seniority no longer counts, seniority no longer matters. As a result, many traditional roles are flipped on their head - many senior colleagues go to junior colleagues when they have problems.

Relationship with employer: loytalty - not dead, but redefined. If it means, I will be loyal from cradle to grave because they will take care of me - then, no. But if loyalty means what an Xer takes it to mean, I am loyal to my manager because my manager is the gatekeeper, the doorway to better opportunity - then they are absolutely loyal. For Gen Ys, they very much have a pack mentality. Groups of friends moving or going to a college together.

Working and living: Xers - I need work-life balance. Baby Boomers may say they value that, and they do, now, but it wasn't the case when it started. Then downsizing happened, and those 60-80 hours a week don't pay off. For Xers it was never any different. For Ys, there is no divide - it's just life. Work time, study time, party time - it all gets melded together. Life is just a flowing massive movement. Ys want immediate gratification - because it's possible.

Principle 1: you don't have to be old to make money. They learned that in the Dot Com era. Sports stars, hockey players - they make tremendously more money than ever before. Rock stars. And they're not old. If you have programming skills, you can write your own ticket. You don't to rise through the ranks to get your own Blackberry.

Principle 2: if it's older than six months, it's out of date. Things are marketed to them in six month cycles. Technology. Which means they are constantly putting pressures on organizations to have the newest version. They say, "Can't we do this better?"

Principle 3: technology is the answer, what is the question? Xers are tech literate; GenYs integrate technology into their lives. I use IM, they know you can audio, video - everything is about convergence. Cell phones with emails. Everything is about immediate response. Databases in your organizations. And they do not see it as an alienation. They find they are more able to build relationships and harmonize friendships through online gaming.


What are their expectations of us? Expectations (in both X and Y - more intense in Y):

Consumerism: you may think, my college needs to act like a marketer. You are competing for students. There is a full range of educational opportunities (and $5 degrees). We used to think, "We'll build it and they'll come." But then we saw they need to be attracted. They evaluate their dollar for school just like every other purchase they make. They look at the service you provide. Can I get my marks? What is the turn-around time? They are constantly evaluating their relationship with the college. You have to cater to that, or they'll go somewhere else. You need to take a consumer-oriented approach.

Personalization: GenYs have grown up in a world where everything is personalized - phones, etc., Home page. Podcasting - you have an iPod, you decide what you want to get. You can download any song you want. Well that goes a long way from saying "You will be in class from 12 to 1." Relevance: learners want to learn what they want where they want when they want it. This sense of personalization. Not just courses - can I personalize the activities? Can I personalize the assignment. That leads to a sense of entitlement - not just that I am entitled to a great education but in the sense that their needs and opinions will be valued. That's because they went through a school system in which everything was positive, an opportunity for growth.

Authority: they really believe that they have an egalitarian relationship with authority. You are the individual who is there to help guide the learning. Now students want in and say, "Prove it to me. Who are you to say this? because, by the way, I can get most of this stuff on the internet." Peer-to-peer relationship with authority. For some faculty, this may be a stretch. There has to be a balance.

Preferences: GenXers want a lot of independence. Xers were very shaped by corporate downsizing. I want to understand, but I want to take control, I want it to be just in time, I want it to be relevant. Hence - they are going to access their email at 3 a.m. They want to be engaged. They want to make learning fun, skill based, remaining marketable. What result can they achieve? Because you think about the results-based resume. That's why competence is more valued than seniority.

Connectiveness: GenYs have a variety of ways to stay connected. GenXs understand this - but gthey remember the time before computers. GenYs have never known anything else. You must have children booting up the computer. So naturally they are using technology to stay connected. They are doing their homework, texting, on MSN, watching TV.... they whole generational identity thing, you can't be doing more than one thing - that's not true for them.

Edutainment: they want the classroom to be fun and engaging. What is their attention span? Certainly shorter than Xers. How many things do you need to have going on in your classroom to engage them? Many things. And they need to be fun. And they've linked learning to making money. Show me the money. Ys are more saavy when it comes to gaining material things than Xers were. You need to be discussing the real-world skills that they're learning and how it will apply. Look at ways you can link your curriculum.

Ten Tips:

  1. Use technology (gen Yer: "d'uh"). [Tools and tech from the conference]. technology is going to be engaging and genYs expect it - and they will use that to gauge your competence.
  2. Contextualize learning - give the big picture view. How it will help them
  3. Chunk information in to bite sized pieces - 10 minutes, preferably less. Gaming - you can create games that have students interact on a problem. Funny tghings - they hate criticism - but in games they lose all the time. It's objective. They know what's going to kill them.
  4. Be dynamic. Varied and diverse learning experiences. Consider the way it can be varied, not just online, but also in the classroom. Bring people in from the real world.
  5. Provide opportunities for creativity. Something other than the midterm and final. This is not a generation that has had to memorize a lot of things. We heard about weblogging - if someb ody is weblogging info for you to access it, why do you have to memorize it? Can they create a website? can they do a video?
  6. Demonstrate expertise, relevant and real world. That has to do with the idea that you do not have authority just because you are at the front of the world.
  7. Provide a lot of feedback on assignments. They have grown up in an era where their opinions have always been valued, but also in a highly chaperoned environment. They've always had somebody there to interact with; that's what they expect from faculty. And we hear that - they are coming more frequently, they are coming more informally.
  8. Clearly define expectations. because it will help you most of all. GenYers share information. They share their grades. They share information. They share information about tests. If they think they don't understand the grading, they will ask each other, and if they still don't understand, they may all walk into your office at the same time. You may spend more time defending your position, contextualizing it, explaining why you do it, than ever before. If you leave it open for debate, you will get the debate.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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Last Updated: Jul 24, 2024 8:29 p.m.

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