Engagement Streams As Course Portals

This podcast comes from a presentation Chip German and I did at the ELI 2009 Annual Meeting earlier this year. Here’s the session abstract:

What if course portals, typically little more than gateways to course activities and materials, became instead course catalysts: open, dynamic representations of “engagement streams” that demonstrate and encourage deep learning? The session will begin with case studies in enabling and designing such course portals, from both administrative and faculty perspectives. Participants will then form groups to imagine and design their own catalytic course portals. Finally, the presenters will discuss action steps that can lead to effective innovation at participants’ home institutions. Presentation resources, including a record of the participants’ design work, will be posted to an online collaborative space for continued discussion after the session.

I haven’t made that last part materialize yet, for all sorts of reasons (none of them very good ones). This post is at least a step in that direction, I hope. The images from the group work are just below, arranged by group. No doubt the work will be hard to understand out of context, but perhaps there’s enough in the audio and in the photos that something useful could emerge. I know I was very impressed by the speed, thoughtfulness, and sheer copiousness of the each group’s work. The idea of visualizing student engagement in such a way that the visualization itself would catalyze further engagement seems to have energized some powerful “imagineering” in the room, whatever the deficiencies of the way I imagined or described the exercise. (One conferee described my bit as “abstract and hurricane-ish,” which seems fair to me, alas.)

At any rate, here’s what the four groups came up with–in ten minutes, mind you! If the formatting breaks in your browser, let me know and I’ll try to fix it. Clicking on the images will take you to Flickr, where you can comment on them and annotate them.



 2a_2 2b_2 2d_1 3a_2 3b_1 3c_1 3d_2 4a_3 4b_2 4c_4 

The real bonus round here is what Chip has to say about the role of the CIO in empowering faculty, students, staff, librarians, and instructional technologists/designers to get to these kinds of experiments and catalysis. Chip and I had both read Fred Brooks’ classic The Mythical Man-Month in preparation for our session. In my view, Chip’s words represent a profound and all-too-rare understanding of Brooks’ ideas regarding conceptual integrity and design–as well as a profound and all-too-rare understanding of the potential for real learning within an agile, responsive cyberinfrastructure. Most of all, Chip’s understanding of higher-ed administration encompasses both the strategic and the tactical/operational, but always in that order, and with a true scholar’s gift for learning the lessons of history while charting a path to the future–a future that in many cases, of course, is already here and only looks like “the future” to those who are enmired in the past..

All of which is to say that Chip German gets it. Those of us who have had the pleasure of working with Chip have known that for a long time, of course, but it’s a privilege to demonstrate and share that knowledge by showcasing his own remarks here.

Post-script: For what it’s worth, my own favorite bit of “imagineering” came from USC’s Susan Metros, who suggested a course portal that would demonstrate the many levels and connections within student engagement streams by means of a 3D “infosphere” that one could fly through, reflect on, and build within. Her explanation of the concept was fascinating. Alas, the audio didn’t come out well for the group work, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say that Susan’s idea takes the idea of “visualizing learning” to a whole ‘nother level.

Oh, and one more very important thing: during my spiel you’ll hear me refer to a guy who has made the whole UMW Blogs thing hum like a top–and whose intelligence, drive, and sheer heart have been a constant inspiration. I refer of course to the guy the Chronicle of Higher Education persists in calling “James”–the mighty Reverend himself, Jim Groom.

3 thoughts on “Engagement Streams As Course Portals

  1. I love your characterization of Chip as someone whose “understanding of higher-ed administration encompasses both the strategic and the tactical/operational, but always in that order.”

    Goals should drive strategy which should in turn drive tactics & operations. As obvious as this sounds when it’s articulated, there are still far to many examples of the tactical/operational trumping goals and related strategies in education. If we focus on what really matters (e.g., getting students engaged in learning streams) we’ll seek out and implement the right tactics. Instead, we too often settle on a tactic (e.g., an LMS) and then try to pursue our goals with less-than-ideal tools. Time to put the horse back in front of the cart.

  2. Pingback: A personal cyberinfrastructure | One Change a Day

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