I always feel like Somebody’s Watching Me

The wonderful Rissa Sorensen-Unruh put a good question on Twitter:

And she and some other folks were nice enough to entertain my ideas, and then she pointed out that I’d basically started a blog post and I should go finish it so she could refer to it without counting on Twitter.

Season 6 Kearney Zzyzwicz GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Flattery will get you everywhere.

The first thing I noticed was that there are 2 questions there. Should we be using automated proctoring, and should we be proctoring at all?

The first question is easy for me to answer today. I simply haven’t seen a single lockdown browser or AI proctoring software option which I think delivers more value than it causes in harm. Look at the student experiences collected at https://twitter.com/Procteario – these are products which crash student computers, which distract and distress and insult students, which introduce the cover of “algorithms” where humans should be responsible for their judgment. And they visit these consequences worst on our most vulnerable students. So as of right now, I think colleges and universities shouldn’t be paying for these services.

(Do I believe that forever? Probably not. I can imagine a world where an AI proctor is closer to a teacher than a prison guard. But the language these systems use to sell themselves doesn’t convince me their designers can imagine it.)

The second question is actually really complicated. Should we proctor? Well, I think having a proctor for a driving test is probably a good idea, yes. When where we’re actually evaluating process, not just outcome, we have to have an observer. We’re not really talking about those when we talk about the kind of proctoring you can outsource, of course, but I think it’s useful to consider the kind of test where the observer adds value.

Similarly, I think it’s possible to agree that there are a set of examinations where the consequences of cheating would be really, really high, and it’s appropriate to impose barriers to success to make sure cheaters don’t get through. Medical boards come to mind; I think it’s pretty important that we not license doctors who cheat. For me, this line is somewhere around “matters of public safety” but more nuanced thought about the definition of “consequences” would be worthwhile.

We’ve started with a troubling assumption: “assume a cheater.” When we start with the assumption that every class includes a student who is, in essence, trying to steal their degree, then all sorts of choices become justifiable, and not only justifiable but necessary. Prioritizing catching cheaters also send the message that cheating is common, which can’t be a good message to send students.

I’m reminded that a long time ago I did some research into honor codes. One of the findings which stuck with me (though I can’t find it at the moment) was that the presence of an “honor code” per se wasn’t nearly as important as the presence of an active discussion about academic integrity on campus. This is the approach which starts by questioning the assumption – what can we do to have fewer cheaters? How do we inculcate a positive value for academic integrity, instead of a fear of being caught cheating? Could we just make the amount of cheating go down?

This is related to the question of how you build assessments and courses which students don’t want to cheat on, which you’ll notice, is at the heart of the original debate. There are lots of approaches to these, using language like “authentic assessments” and “nondisposable assignments.” And they’re all really good ideas, since they get at moving students toward practicing more complex skills, hopefully in more motivating environments. That’s what we’re all looking for, right?

Well, sort of. Every discipline does have some body of knowledge which you just need to have in your head to be successful. An “authentic assessment” might be an indirect way to test that knowledge, while a more direct test might be a better measure of exactly what’s known and what isn’t. If you’re looking to identify the specific areas where a student and a teacher need to focus their efforts, less “authentic” measures might make sense.

We’ve shifted into the zone of formative assessment, though. If the point is less to take a measurement than to use that measurement to further learning, then suddenly we’re in the zone of retrieval practice and spaced repetition and automatic re-takes on quizzes… in other words, strategies which don’t particularly require proctors. (At least not if the students actually understand why we’re using these approaches.)

I’m reminded of Jim Lang’s fantastic Cheating Lessons, which looks at the ways in which course and assignment design can incentivize or remove the incentives to cheat. One of the things I really like about this book is the way Lang offers both an extreme example of a course which has been radically redesigned to address a reason students cheat, and some less extreme examples of courses which make smaller changes.

Because these things are more work, right? Even the more liberal approaches to quizzing imply spending more time writing good quiz questions. Authentic assessments might mean searching out authentic but appropriate data sets; they mean spending more time coaching students and eventually more time grading more complicated assignments. This is the work of good teaching, but it is labor that has to come from somewhere. It can’t be by accident that I see lots of good teaching innovations which return in a year, scaled back a little. Faculty members find out which parts work best and trim the less valuable parts away. Much the way their students do.

And more complex assessments are also labor for our students. Many of our students are already stretched to their max between commitments inside and outside the classroom. The “opportunity” to work harder, learn more, demonstrate their accomplishments more meaningfully may be a double-edged sword, for those students who need to learn about prioritization and letting some things be “good enough”. I don’t in any way mean that classes should be dumbed down, but scale is important, and it needs to be considered across the whole student experience.

Speaking of “good enough”, it’s time to not write my cool closing paragraph and just hit publish…

If you read that far, you deserve something, so here’s the clip where I learned that some people call proctors “invigilators”.

The original thread is really good and I encourage you to check it out. Lots of folks had good points which fed into any good points I made.

love dares you to change our way

It occurred to me that I could model something I really value: real-time reflections about the act of teaching. So here goes.

We usually start planning our summer DigPINS runs in December and January. Most of these conversations are about finding good dates and figuring out which institutions want to collaborate this time, and there’s a little bit of reflection about what we might like to do this time. We had enough collaborators interested that we probably should have put more explicit planning into how DigPINS changes as it scales up.

In late February 2020, we started to think about how we could include some different digital literacies which people might find handy if this weird pandemic thing turned into any kind of problem. Obviously stuff changed a lot faster and a lot farther than we thought it would.

Screencapture from our early March meeting.

There were some rather obvious changes to DigPINS. For example, we used to do videoconferences in part to make sure people had thought about bringing in external speakers over video. It’s fair to say I don’t ever expect to introduce that concept to a faculty member again. Our use of Liberating Structures this time has been a kind of recognition that effective meeting techniques, especially over video, aren’t always intuitive. (And thanks to Maha for bringing us those approaches!)

And then right as we were preparing to launch, the outrage sparked by the murder of George Floyd caused us to think again about how we might need to hold space for the processing people need to do in this moment.

This has all made me more aware, perhaps, of a repeating theme that people sign up for DigPINS without entirely understanding what it is we’ll be doing together. That’s not entirely a bad thing – I think enough people have overall positive experiences that I’m not worried about DigPINS being a bait-and-switch, and our heutagogical model relies on learners pursuing the experiences they want. But I still wonder whether there’s a way for us to signal ahead of time just what kind of workshop this is.

And then I thought back to last year’s Kenyon digital storytelling workshop.

In that workshop we explored the ways that we can make a course more engaging and transparent by drawing on narrative or narrative-like techniques. As Alan wrote in his recap, while the trappings of fictional narrative like plot and character proved too big a lift for most folks, ideas like recurring theme or central conflict are already there in many courses, and the idea of lifting them up seemed to interest people.

Now, DigPINS’ central argument is IMO pretty darn central – who we understand ourselves to be, and who we understand ourselves to be in community with, impacts how we teach and do our disciplinary work. And we tend to believe the benefits of expanding those definitions are worth the work and risk. Still… sometimes that feels more like an assertion than a debate or an arc.

I find myself wondering what might happen if DigPINS had a more intentional theming, an agreement to try and look at one facet of the PINS, if you will. I could imagine iterations which focused on issues of equity and inclusion, on public scholarship, on subsets of technology. We might advertise it as DigPINS And… or The DigPINS Of…

Bokeh Focus

(This idea is inspired by the different genres explored over the years in DS106, with the understanding that DS106 is a very different course/community.)

How would our conversations be different around a more defined common point of interest? Would it give us a better way to navigate the way “the digital” touches pretty much everything? I want to believe the extra structure would give us resilience, even if it were only in the form of having the ability (the responsibility) to pause the main topic to address current events. Or would sticking to the plan become a bigger hazard than it already is? We’d definitely be shrinking our potential community of participants, and one of the things I value about DigPINS is the way different perspectives can inform one another… would the sacrifice be worth it?

It might be worth noting that this is my 3rd time facilitating a DigPINS cohort, and a lot of faculty have comments that this is often the point when they start messing with courses just to mess with them. So I do want to approach this with some humility.

I don’t know what the right answers are; I don’t know what my co-facilitators will think about the questions. I don’t know where we’ll be this time next year. But… I can write them down, share them, and try to remember to return to them in 6 months.

GIF of Tori Belleci from Mythbusters getting whacked in the head from giphy.com .

GIF of The Dude captioned by Alan Levine.

Bokeh Focus” also by Alan Levine.

And if you want it, you can lean on me

bent pillar

I extemporized something in yesterday’s faculty meeting which I thought maybe I should write down. Use it if it’s useful.

For the last 3 years or so, most of my professional engagement has been in the form of online meetings. I am, if I do say so myself, pretty good at them. (Not great, but I know who the greats are and I learn from them.)

By Friday afternoon, I’ll have co-hosted (with my invaluable colleagues) 15 online workshops over 2 weeks for my faculty about moving to remote learning. I’m writing this between workshops 8 and 9.

I’d say the last one was pretty OK, and the one the morning before that was almost pretty OK. None have been up to my high standards.

And yet faculty members are coming back to workshop after workshop, and thanking me and telling me the workshops were helpful. At a time when they need connection and support, they’re getting it. What I’m giving is good enough.

And that’s what I want you to remember. You don’t have to be that good to be good enough. You’ll want to get better, and you’ll get a lot of practice and you will get better, and you’ll learn some tips and tricks which, in future when you actually get to plan in advance, will make you better still.

It’s gonna be frustrating, because you’re exceptionally good teachers and you’re going to see all the flaws. But give yourself – and your students – permission to be good enough.

Because it’s actually pretty good.

Photo: “Bent Pillar” by Bryan Alexander, CC-BY at https://flic.kr/p/2gVGyD7. I tried a couple of different searches on Flickr – “lean” and “good enough” first, and then “support”, and I decided this fits.

Come on-a my house

I do a lot of RSVP forms for work, using Google Forms. I’m finding that I’m sending out lots of invitations for “pick as many as you like” events – things like writing groups, workshop series, summer book clubs, all-day events where people can come and go.

Screenshot of form to sign up for writing groups. 10 different dates/times, each with a checkbox.
Why and how we offer so many writing groups is its own post.

Unfortunately, when you use checkboxes like this, Google Forms helpfully concatenates all the answers in a response. So it’s easy to tell what an individual has signed up for, but really hard to tell who’s signed up for the Thursday morning group.

Spreadsheet excerpt: column "What groups would you like to join?" has answers like "Mondays 8:30 - 10 am, Wednesdays 8:30 - 10 am" and on a new line "Tuesdays 8 - 9:30 am, Thursdays 8 - 9:30 am"
Google Forms’ “Responses” screen is useful for some surveys, but almost useless in this case. You have to view responses in Google Sheets. It won’t bite.

If you don’t have too many options, or too many respondents, you can do some manipulation with Text to Columns and maybe a Transpose, but pretty soon I always find myself dragging data around on the sheet, a job that’s both tedious and error prone.

I suppose I could make each item on the form a “do you want this yes/no” radio button, but (a) that would be ugly and (b) I never remember this problem until I’m looking at data I can’t massage easily.

I was hoping to be able to handle this with a pivot table or a vlookup or some other function I don’t quite understand. These hopes all appear to be wrong, but searching for it is how I discovered the Filter function. That terrific linked page is where I learned that the Filter function can combine with the Search function, and critically, the Search function doesn’t require a complete match. It’ll find every instance of the searched-for text.

So, I opened a new tab in the results Google Sheet, and laid out all my options in the top row. (I’ve learned the hard way to always use different tabs for data and analysis.) To get a list of email addresses for each option, then I used this formula in each column.

=filter('Form Responses 1'!B:B,(search("SEARCH CRITERIA GOES HERE",'Form Responses 1'!D:D)))

Let’s take that apart. “Form Responses 1” seems to consistently be what Google Forms names the first tab of a responses Sheet. (If you’re not getting data through a Google form, well, change it to whatever the tab is called where your data lives.)

Column A is always a timestamp, and if you’re collecting email addresses they always go in B, so that’s why I’m filtering column B. If I wanted human names, in this form, I’d have used ‘Form Responses 1’!C:C

The Filter condition is the result of my Search against Form Responses 1, Column D, for matching responses… again, which column depends on how the form is organized. For the search criteria, I could have used a cell reference (A1, B1, C1…), since I did put all the options in Row 1 . That might have been better for cutting-and-pasting the formula or using it as a template for next year. I wanted it to be more human-readable, though, so my staff and I have a better chance of remembering how to do this in future.

Anyway, I hope writing this down helps me remember it, and maybe helps out other folks using Google Forms for RSVPs. Plus, I get to knock some dust off the blog.

To the place I belong

I got in my car and told Google Maps to take me to DC via the big highways and non-toll roads I’m used to.

So when I found myself on a 4-lane toll road somewhere in the Laurel Highlands, scrounging my ashtray to see if I could make exact change, honestly, I was pretty pissed.

Fortunately, pulling out of the toll booth, my buddy Terry put on that song he likes.

And he and my friend Ken struck up a conversation about their influences and activities in open education. Before I knew it, I was relaxed, I was thinking about my communities, and I was able to notice that it was a lot nicer to drive on a slightly smaller road, rolling through gentler hills without all the big trucks of I-79.

Terry and Ken weren’t actually in the car, of course. I was listening to them on my podcatcher, doing a crossover episode of their podcasts.

(That’s Terry’s podcast Gettin’ Air; I should give you a link to Ken’s show at The Flipped Learning Network too.)

This is what the digital storytelling community calls “the gift of voice.” It’s all of the human cues – pacing and timbre and volume – which expand and explain our word choices. It’s the speed with which the presence of the other person becomes palpable, as they literally come into the air around us. It’s the ability of my friends’ voices to short circuit road rage.

I find Terry and Ken to have a particularly relaxed style on their podcasts. They make space for spontaneity with their guests, which makes me feel like I’m observing a conversation, not an interview. For a lot of podcasters, I hear them using their NPR-voices and I imagine them in their recording studios, checking their notes, but I often feel like I could walk up on one of Terry’s or Ken’s episodes happening over lunch at a conference.

I should take a step back and attribute that to craft as much as talent. I know both of them do extensive research and craft their interviews thoughtfully, at the same time they leave the space for the conversation to go where it wants to. That balance probably has a lot to do with why I both enjoy their shows and find them useful for learning. This brings up a question of relationship – how much of my enjoyment of their shows comes from the reminder of spending time with my friends? (Probably a lot. It has to help that, through Virtually Connecting, I’ve seen Terry’s and Ken’s homes and offices, and when I see them in my mind, we’re all together at OpenEd in Niagara.) Conversely, if I knew John Kane and Rebecca Mushtare, (http://teaforteaching.com/) or Bonnie Stachowiak (https://teachinginhighered.com/podcast/) or Ed Burger and Jennifer Stayton (https://www.kut.org/topic/higher-ed) or the good folks at Xavier University (https://cat.xula.edu/food/podcast), would I hear their gifts of voice differently? (Also probably a lot, though each of those hosts do have their own style and that would probably play out differently. And even though I’m not buddies with the hosts, I can recommend all those podcasts without reservation.)

For a decade or more, I’ve reflected that my professional development has been moving away from loyalty to organizations which purport to be disciplinary homes, and toward smaller, more tightly knit personal networks. Events and publications are good; it’s nice for someone to do the work of coming up with a reason to get together. But I feel myself growing more in the meals shared and hallway conversations than in the sessions and articles. Growing differently, anyway. Perhaps podcasting also fills my desire for time spent with other people – for the perception of community, even in a one-way medium, in a way that text and for some reason asynchronous video rarely grants. It’s some combination of a memento of time spent together before, and a ritual of being together again.

Which, because having a dusty untended blog isn’t enough, makes me wonder if anyone out there wants to hear more of my voice. I know there are voices I want to hear (because those are the episodes I download first, or grab as one-offs when my friends tell me they’re on a podcast).

I wonder if it’s really wise to publish a call for there to be even more podcasts, when I look at the days and days worth of unlistened-to episodes I’ve already got. But then I think about all the folks whose voices I’d like to hear more regularly (or, if I’m honest about my listening habits, more irregularly) and I think yeah, bring it on.

Image credit: View north from Sideling Hill rest stop, my own photo. Technically, this view would have been a couple hours after the story, but it’s pretty. CC-BY-NC at https://flic.kr/p/2gZgkps

Comments and an ethos of care

Arrrrrgh! I’m trying to get all. the. things. in this post and make it perfect which is exactly what I’ve been telling people not to do…

I’ve been thinking a lot about a recent interview with Sherri Spelic on my friend Terry Greene’s podcast. Among the many interesting things in that discussion is the discussion of using “an ethic of care” in thinking about blogs and comments. (This is about 20 minutes into the episode.)

I think “care” is a challenging concept in online spaces. Well, it’s challenging in face to face spaces too, but there’s all that additional information available to us (whether or not we use it) and context is usually more apparent than it is with the written word. Online it can be harder to know whether to press or alter an approach to a discussion, which seems to lead to this a lot:

“Duty Calls” by Randall Munroe, CC-BY-NC at https://xkcd.com/386/

Sherri talks about the power of a good comment to show care, which can feel a little lost now that we’ve entered the world that says “smash that Like button” on one hand and “don’t read the comments” on the other. But in an ideal world, we’d think about all the social cues embedded in a comment – starting with “I heard you” and continuing through “and it was important enough to talk back” and then the actual content of the comment (and the cues in how it’s phrased). I think this is an important way of thinking about commenting – that it’s not just an intellectual engagement of one text with another, but a society-building (or society-breaking) act between people.

Commenting is, of course, different on different platforms. Blogs and discussion forums tend to support longer responses, and longer discussions in those responses. Slack and Twitter lend themselves towards more conversational modes, where there might be more room for back and forth. Facebook’s commenting feature is a stinking mess, in my opinion, promising conversation but not really delivering it for any sustained or large discussion.

(We’ve also got everything from Twitter’s heart button to Facebook’s 6 allowable emotions to a full complement of emoji available in Slack, which include a lot of those cues and are sometimes sufficient, but for the moment I’m going to declare them all to be not full comments.)

Another thing I find myself thinking about is the way that different platforms map onto different spaces. A person’s blog is their own space – the comment there is kind of like the comments you might make in a person’s home. This, of course, is a group blog, but it’s still ours. A discussion forum in a class ideally belongs to the class, with some direction from the professor. Comment sections on news sites and YouTube and such are clearly the public square at best (perhaps a public restroom at worst).

Twitter is an interesting space to read because it’s a public space where it only takes a little work to discern multiple groups – multiple “publics” – in operation. You’ll even see people moving among those publics as different parts of their identity prompt them to Tweet about different things. As I think about the way I navigate those spaces on Twitter, there are places where I’m pretty vocal (ed tech Twitter, mostly) and people I talk to pretty frequently. But I also keep an eye on some places (and topics and people) where I’m still learning, and I try not to insert myself in those conversations because I can create a lot more value by listening instead of talking. (I’m a talkative extrovert and this is a lifelong struggle for me, just applied to a new domain.)

OK, this post has been open for days, and it’s time to just hit publish, but I did happen to find one more relevant thing. (Which probably reinforces a bad habit, but there it is.) We’re doing a summer book club on Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi, which presents the research on stereotype threat and discusses ways to mitigate it for better learning. In a footnote, Steele says

Reducing the threat a person sees in a setting may err in the direction of encouraging too much trust. But it may be worth the risk. I say this because it is hard to believe, in light of the central message of this book, that learning, achievement, and performance can be optimized without trust in the setting… If one has to err, in light of our research over the years, I would thus err in the direction of urging greater trust, rather than greater vigilance.

This is specific to Steele’s argument, of course, but I think it’s useful to this discussion. The Internet and higher education are both facing massive crises of mistrust right now. Some of that mistrust is very fairly placed and I don’t mean to minimize that. Still, as we move toward the pedagogy and scholarship weeks, I think it’s a worthwhile challenge to keep thinking about what we can do – as individuals, in classes and in our fields – to set up structures which normalize and reward appropriate trust, and protect those who extend it.

Which may be a lot of words to say “what we can do to care.”

Week 5: Write Your Own Ending

Well, that’s the end.

End of The Muppet Movie: A rainbow shines, the words "The End" appear, and then Sweetums bursts through the screen

After a fashion. Because we were talking about identities, and networks of people, and our work, and those things didn’t end.

So the question is, what do you want to do with this experience?

Let me start with thanks. I have greatly enjoyed hearing your ideas and discussions over this month and I’ve learned a lot as you’ve shared your thoughts and concerns.

DigPINS is a very different kind of “workshop” than I’m used to teaching and this has been a terrific learning opportunity for me. It’s also been a stage in DigPINS’ growth, as the first time we implemented it as a multi-institutional effort. So thank you for helping me have those experiences as well. I have more reflecting to do on those topics, but there is a formal evaluation coming and I don’t want to prime your thinking any more than necessary.

Technically, this blog will continue to be available for you if you’d like to keep writing here. I’d also be more than happy to help you get set up somewhere else if you’d like a space that you can own a little more. At some point in the future, I hope this site will be the home to a new iteration of DigPINS at Kenyon, and that will have some consequences for the content that’s already here.

Twitter and Hypothesis will remain available for you as well. If you see something which you think you’d like to share, the #DigPINS hastag is kind of our Bat-signal. Autumm and I and other members of the community keep an eye on it, so don’t be shy about using it if you’ve got something to share. And for that matter, there are conversations already going on about more schools trying out DigPINS, so any time you see the hashtag or hear about a blog post, your comments would be welcome.

So let us know about your next project or idea or question or hare-brained scheme. You’ve got a great group of caring folks who will celebrate your accomplishments or bat ideas around.

GIF from The Muppet Movie (1979) by Jim Henson, et al. “Contributed” to YouTube by Jack Copper’s Video Vault and tweaked on Giphy.com by me. (Hey, gang, hold on, don’t go yet, we never talked about making your own animated GIFs…)

Joe’s tech tip: tracking blogs

It didn’t escape my notice that we recommended 23 possible Twitter accounts this week, and at least 13 blogs/websites to watch. And then we told you “but you should go look for your own interests too.” I can imagine some of you might feel like

Animated gif of Sheldon Cooper throwing papers angrily

although our goal, when we showed you all this neat stuff, was that you’d feel more like

Animated gif of the M*A*S*H* cast throwing papers happily

(There’s a whole blog post about course design and “coverage” in those gifs, but not right now.)

Specifically, you might be thinking “Joe, how the heck am I ever going to track all this stuff?” Personally, my browser bookmarks are already overstuffed, I couldn’t take one more email newsletter, and I need something else to manage blogs and websites I want to keep an eye on.

Let me tell you about RSS.

RSS icon

Many websites publish a “feed” of information in a standard called RSS. That’s a pretty technical page on Wikipedia, but we don’t have to get technical – an RSS feed is kind of a computer-readable table of contents for a website. It tells you what’s been published and when. A feed might include entire articles, small teasers, or just the title. It might include media.

Sometimes, a site will use that little orange icon to let you know that an RSS feed is available, but sometimes they’re not advertised. Some big news sites publish multiple RSS feeds, so you can get both the “front page” and the various “sections” depending on what you want. (I use this on Inside Higher Ed to follow particular bloggers on that site.) Journals we get through OhioLINK publish RSS feeds (though of course they’re only updated when a new issue comes out).

Now as I said, the RSS feed is computer-readable. So as a human, you need a tool to read it for you, called an “RSS Reader.” There are lots of RSS readers out there in the world; Bryan Alexander had a good discussion about RSS reader options on his blog this spring.

I’m just going to tell you about the one I use, called Feedly. I picked Feedly, honestly, because it’s free for the first 100 feeds, it syncs between a mobile app and the web browser version, and it’s easy to set up.

So you go to Feedly, you set up an account with either a new username and password, or using your Google or Twitter credentials and… it tells you there’s nothing in your account.

Screencapture of new empty feedly account

Well, that makes sense. So you click the “Add sources” button and Feedly will suggest some popular topics you might want to explore, or give you a search box where you can add a specific site.

Adding sources to a new Feedly account

Feedly is pretty darn good at discovering RSS feeds if a website makes them available, so my normal process is to paste the base URL for the website into that search box. If the website advertises its RSS address, you can copy and paste that instead.

When you add a new RSS feed, Feedly will have you put it in a collection… which is also called a feed. (Great.) Creating a new Feedly feed

Feeds are actually one of the most powerful parts of Feedly. They work like filters in email, sending messages to particular folders so they’re organized for easy reading. For example, in my account, I’ve got feeds for webcomics, education, food and cooking, my friends who run blogs, a catchall “interesting” category, and music sites. (A site can be in more than one feed, so my friends like Autumm, who write on education, are in both collections.)

joe's feeds

That number to the side is how many unread articles are in the feed.  I might need to weed my generally “interesting” sources. Or not; I seem to be perfectly happy keeping a close eye on some categories and just browsing others.

I can look at a merged feed of everything, or pull up a particular feed. Those are also drop-down menus, so I can pop them open and check whether there’s anything new on a particular site I haven’t visited in a while.

Feedly will save unread items for 30 days, and then they’ll roll off the feed. However, it also has some neat bookmarking options (called “boards” and “read later”) which will save things for… well, at least 4 months.

I’ve gotten a lot of benefit from using an RSS reader. It’s given me an organization system for keeping current with both professional and personal information. I feel like I have a measure of control over all those great websites I should be looking at. (The Feedly interface is also pretty clean; each article looks the same so I suspect I can scan them a lot faster than trying to find my way around 80+ different sites.)

So, that’s my pitch. Check out Feedly or another RSS reader and see if it makes the social media world of blogs make more sense for you.

I owe some credit here to Alan Levine, who happens to have just blogged on this very topic and tool (twice actually). Seeing how he structured such a post was very useful as I decided what to address in mine. I think his posts are particularly good if you’re thinking that you might like to work on blogging with students or among a research group.


Gare de triage dans l’est de Montréal (switchyard)” by Claude Robillard; CC-BY on Flickr. Because it’s got tracks. Get it?

Animated GIFs from Big Bang Theory and M*A*S*H* from Giphy.

RSS icon from Wikipedia.

Feedly screencaptures originally taken by Alan Levine or by me.

A few thoughts on blogging

I posted a version of this to the Moodle site, but I thought it was good enough to make public.

From talking to a couple of you, it sounds like there might be a little technostress going on from trying to introduce so many tools at the same time. So first of all… yay! If you’re stressed out from looking at everything at once, then you’re interested and working ahead. That’s good, right?

For this week, the only technology we’re looking at is blogging. (There was some technical stuff here about blogging which I’m leaving on Moodle. It was very “click here”-ish.)

You might be thinking “well, great, Joe, but what do I write”? Our general guidance for this week is “reflect on your readings and/or your visitor-resident map.” Beyond that, it’s a matter of finding your style. I’ll share 3 things that I think are key – one that I think I’m good at, one that I think I’m getting better at, and one which is really hard for me.


Links are how a document knows it’s on the web. I’m borrowing that turn of phrase from Kenyon student Daniel Olivieri. (See what I did there?) So my first piece of advice is to link liberally. Link to the article you’re reflecting on. Link to another piece it reminds you of. Link to an explanation of a disciplinary concept you’re applying. Link to a place where you’ve got a digital presence, or directly to your presence on that platform. Link to someone else’s post on DigPINS that interested you.

Of course, that’s a style choice, and it doesn’t fit every possible kind of blogging you might do. But I do believe that links are the difference between a document that’s really “in the web” and one that’s just published electronically, so I encourage you to think about them.


This is the one I’m trying to get better at. I’m a pretty textual guy and if you look at my blogging, you’ll see a lot of walls of text. But there are lots of ways to leaven your writing with images, from literal illustrations or figures to images which you use to make a point, or enhance a theme, or just make a joke.

Bob Ross at his easel
Let’s add a happy little image right here.

Again, that’s a style choice, and you can use as many or as few images as you like. Without getting into the “click here” or the copyright discussion right now, I’ll say that you can insert images with a button on WordPress which says “Add Media”, and you can either use URLs for images on the web, or upload images to be hosted on our site.

Just hit publish

This is the one I’m just bad at. As you can see from this message, I like to write a lot of things and have them relatively polished before I release them. That’s my style, and I’m OK with it. But the risk of writing small numbers of long posts is that I have a bunch of half-finished blog drafts or ideas instead of an active blog, and that’s kind of a shame. There are a number of more successful bloggers who are more prepared to stop a post abruptly, and then pick up the idea in a new post later on. Remember, you can write a second post, or you can engage us in the comments to flesh out an idea… but only if you hit publish on the first post.

I have more thoughts, but I should take my own advice and just hit publish!


OK, one more thing. I do believe that when you use images from the web, you should cite them. So the picture of Bob Ross is taken from Wikipedia.

Week 0!

Welcome to #DigPINS!

This summer #DigPINS is a five week online professional development course/conversation for faculty and staff designed to introduce and expand how connected digital environments impact pedagogy, identity, networks and scholarship. DigPINS will run from June 18th – July 20th with four weeks of content and a week long break in the middle.

This year will be the first iteration of #DigPINS in partnership! The cohorts at Kenyon and St. Norbert will have our own digital spaces, but we’ll also be in conversation on the open web!

So what’s Week Zero?

Week Zero is a setup week – an opportunity for us to give a little information about the experience and for you to do a couple things to prepare. Nothing is required this week, but it might save you a little time next week.

Our facilitators recently recorded a week 0 video which you can view to get an introduction.

Digital Tools

#DigPINS is not a “click here” kind of training course. You will need a few technical skills to participate, since it’s an online experience, but our goals are more about learning the “grammar” which will transfer from tool to tool, and the critical lens which lets you think about what works for whom, and why.

We also hope #DigPINS is an excuse for you to try things out; if you see an opportunity to push yourself by learning and evaluating a potential new tool, take it! The facilitators are here to help and ideally the community will work together to help one another to empathize and learn together in these areas. (Documenting your thoughts about a new tool, or an old tool used a new way, makes for great blog posts!)

To get ready for the course one of the things that you can do is just make sure that you have access to the following and if you have questions about access to reach out to Joe Murphy:


Most of our work is going to be in the open, but we’ll also have a Moodle page available. Primarily we’ll just use the course forum to serve as a mailing list; it’s a place where you could contribute links or ask questions, or let us know when you’re trying something out on the blog or on Twitter. This will be private to just the Kenyon College participants, though Autumm Caines, the co-facilitator at St. Norbert, will have access as well.

Once the page is ready, you’ll see it when you log in to Moodle.


As part of developing a digital identity you will blog publicly on this site. You are encouraged to post weekly in your blog, promote your blog post on Moodle or Twitter or elsewhere, and read and comment on your colleagues’ posts (including our St. Norbert colleagues over at snc.digpins.org). There are no due dates for blog posts, but do try to post once a week.

Joe will create accounts for each participant and you will receive an email invite.


Before we begin you may want to set up a Twitter account if you do not have one already, however, you may also want to wait till after the week on digital identity if you are unsure. You can sign up at https://twitter.com/ and there are instructions on signing up  at https://help.twitter.com/en/create-twitter-account .

Video Calls

We will be using YouTube Live/Google Hangout for our synchronous video calls. Each week we will meet in this way and the call may be recorded for review later in some cases. You will need a good internet connection, a camera and microphone, to be able to participate; this could be a webcam on your computer or a smartphone/tablet. If you feel like you need a test call to check your connection, camera, mic, etc just contact Joe.


Hypothesis is a social annotation tool for the web and digital documents. You will need an account and a browser plugin is optional. This tool allows us (in week 3) to collectively mark up a text that we are all reading in-line with comments, questions, and even video and images.


This is a very broad plan and as each week starts, we’ll release materials, readings and more solid schedule of activities will be released.


We all contain multitudes; you have different identities depending on context. When and where do you identify as a scholar, teacher, professional, member of a community, or member of your family? During this week we will explore digital identity through some readings, your blog post, a synchronous introduction call, and an exercise called “Visitor and Resident (V&R) Mapping.”


No man (or woman) is an island; we all participate in networks everyday through work, friends, and/or family. How do we create and maintain strong connections when the environment is digital? This week we will start exploring how we make those networks real and public; there will likely be a video call, twitter chat, or other sync activity. Blog posts and comments too.


Enjoy your holiday; catch up if you got behind.


This week we begin to think about how online identities and networks can come into play as we are working with students. What are the benefits and drawbacks to working with students in the open? What digital tools could help students to think about subjects from new perspectives. Again, we will have a set of readings, blog posts, and a sync video call perhaps with a special guest.


How are scholarship practices changing with the digital?  Who reads our scholarly work? How much of our scholarly work is understandable to those outside of our disciplines? We will be pulling from what we learned in networks to reflect on our scholarly practices through readings, blog posts, and a sync activity/call.

So here we are, getting ready to go! We’re looking forward to reflecting on these issues with you!

The picture “First Day: calendar” by Eric Rice is used under its Creative Commons license (CC-BY-NC-ND) from https://flic.kr/p/4BoKM.