Academic Technology Blogs

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These are the combined posts of the Academic Technology Staff Blog, where AT staff members post thoughts and ideas about educational technology, and the Learn@UW Madison Blog, where members of the Learn@UW Madison team post tips and ideas for using Learn@UW, our course management system.


John Martin's picture

Kids these days...

(I started this as a reply to John Thomson's post& "Blogging no longer a hit with teens, but quickly realized that it's less about what kids don't do —blogging— and more about what they do —social networking.)

They don't email.

They don't tweet.

And now they don't blog?

What *do* they do?

From the Pew report:

  • 73% of wired American teens now use social networking websites, a significant increase from previous surveys. Just over half of online teens (55%) used social networking sites in November 2006 and 65% did so in February 2008.
  • 62% of online teens get news about current events and politics online.
  • 48% of wired teens have bought things online like books, clothing or music, up from 31% who had done so in 2000 when we first asked about this.
  • 31% of online teens get health, dieting or physical fitness information from the internet. And 17% of online teens report they use the internet to gather information about health topics that are hard to discuss with others such as drug use and sexual health topics.
What this suggests (to me, at least) is that the internet is largely a social medium for teens. And thus is following social conversation norms: 
  • less soapbox (hence less interest in long formats, such as blogs and email)
  • more connections and interest in the knowledge and information that their peers feel is important (social networks)
  • more quips (short formats, such as status updates and comments), but they don't want these to be public — they want to control who sees them (thus, not Twitter).
What are the implications for technology in higher education?

These 12-17 year olds will become our students for the next 5-10 years, and the habits that they have formed will guide them as they enter into our universities. So, we should pay attention and try to meet them half way rather than force them into a system designed by (and thus according to the habits of) Academic Technologists who are a generation or two older (I include myself here).

I don't have a set of implications in a clear and concise form that I can post here, but I invite people to post their ideas and observations into this conversation.

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John Thomson's picture

Open courses do not hurt enrollment

A recent post over at the Chronicle of Higher Ed points to findings that schools that have opened some course content to the world has not hurt enrollment--in fact:

“Really, the OpenCourseWare ended up serving as an advertising tool,” Mr. Johansen said in an interview. Over all, the six opened courses attracted 13,795 visits and 445 paid enrollments in four months. But Mr. Johansen cautions that the limited length of the pilot study meant that a “statistically significant” measure of the impact of opening the classes on paid enrollment “was not possible.”

There has been a lot of interest around the issue of open course content within the educational technology arena lately.  This might be an issue to keep an eye on.

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John Thomson's picture

Learn@UW ePortfolio (pilot) demo

You are missing some Flash content that should appear here! Perhaps your browser cannot display it, or maybe it did not initialize correctly.

This content requires Flash Player 9r115 or newer. Go get the Flash Player (free).

This 9 minute informal video demonstrates some of the features of the Learn@UW ePortfolio that we are currently piloting.  The ePortfolio is a student-centered tool that allows a great amount of flexibility for students to design and share their work how they best see fit. This video might also give current pilot participants a quick overview of how to use the tool.

If you are interested in participating in the pilot, we want to hear from you! Please contact us at (instructors only).

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John Thomson's picture

Blogging no longer a hit with teens

A recent Pew Internet and American Life report finds that blogging is no longer as popular with teens.

By 2009, just 15% of internet users ages 18-29 maintain a blog—a nine percentage point drop in two years. However, 11% of internet users ages thirty and older now maintain a personal blog.

Personal-use blogs, however, shouldn't downplay their value for education. While teens may be gravitating towards short posts in their online social networks, the depth of thought and interlinking that one can do in a blog may hold real potential for both personal introspection and group feedback.

What about blogs here at UW?


We're working on that.

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John Martin's picture

My iPad Thoughts (e-Napkin)

[UPDATE: Steven Johnson makes a similar point about the iPad's support for user-created content in yesterday's post on TIME — "During the iPad keynote, four of the most impressive (and in-depth) demos were content-creation apps: Brushes and the iWork trio"]

The iPad Hype

I helped slow the web last week by hitting refresh on a number of live blogs during the unveiling of the iPad. The hype and expectations had been almost overwhelming, and pretty much anything that Jobs could have unveiled would have caused some to bemoan the lack of *something*. Here's my take: it's a nice balance of a device designed for the consumption of media/information and one designed for production.

Most critics have focused on it's "closed" state, calling it a boon for the media producers. What they're missing is that it's going to produce media producers. Though it doesn't have a camera, it's got a lot of better tools for thinking.

What it is

It's a napkin. It's a note pad. A sketchpad. A journal. A browser, a dictionary, a game console, an email machine, an address book, an eBook, an mp3 player, an audio-recorder, an alarm clock, a calendar, and a whole bunch of other things. But I want to focus on the first three I mentioned.

I think visually, and still carry a notebook and pen with me to write in. In order to understand things, I often need to draw in order to understand things or develop ideas more fully. I've tried to move my thought processes to a laptop, and applications like Apple's Keynote and OmniGraffle have helped me that attempt, but nothing has come close to replacing the direct connection between my brain and the thinking that occurs between my pencil and paper. I've tried using the Wacom tablet to bridge that gap, but it too requires too big of a jump between the invisible marks I pretend to make on the tablet and the disempenciled marks that appear on screen.

The base-level, low-end iPad could be the electronic Napkin that bridges that gap. As is, with apps like Brushes and Keynote, I envision it solving many of the troubles I've been having in moving my cognitive process to computers.

What it will become

It will evolve.

It will probably get a camera and GPS, and may get bloated with an SD slot and USB port and a thousand other things that people are demanding. I secretly hate Flash and hope that Apple can force people off that bad habit. I'd like to see Apple team up with Pixar to create an easy animation app, but I've been dreaming of that since Toy Story.

How it may affect teaching and learning

Like paper. How do we use paper in education? (reading books and magazines and newspapers and each other's papers and writings, note-taking, tests and quizzes, sketching and drawing and creative writing, recording grades and attendance and other administrative duties).

All these things, except in the physical space of of one notebook. It can replace the Trapper-Keeper, textbooks, notebooks, and whiteboard.


And because it's also an almost-mobile [see below] wifi-enabled computer, it can be used for 90% (or more) of what education currently uses computers for (web research, social, videos, record-keeping, writing process, simulations and games, Smartboard, etc.).


And because it's portable and fairly sturdy it *may* replace the clipboard on field trips. It's relatively inexpensive, when compared to fieldwork computers and instruments.


When I was a kid, my father made me one of those 101 Electronics kits, except mine was cooler because my dad made it. I could hook up a battery to a resistor and flashlight bulb and electric motor, and switch and dimmer, etc. This can be done on the iPad (times 1,000).

Remember the gear toys that you can assemble however you want, and then turn one and see how the others turn? Easy on an iPad.

Arguments that the iPad won't allow tinkering are narrowly construed into a "Since it doesn't let me hack and ruin the OS with ResEdit, it doesn't count as tinkering" -style argument. These folks are not respecting the power of simulation. Imagine what Logo, Star Logo, or Boxer could be with a touch interface?

Need to hack? I can envision a Commodore 64 App emulated on it for them to completely reprogram, and when they outgrow it, they can open the Mac 512 App. Wanna create your first virus? There could be a Windows 95 App for that. And when they crash, they don't take down the rest of the contents in your Trapper Keeper 2000.

This will be big for education (k-90). It's about time.

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