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Student Reminders! EN100 Students: Diagnostic Paragraphs Due 9/9


Welcome Back! Welcome Back, UWP Students. Thus begins the fall semester!


Litspot Rss


Posted on : 18-10-2013 | By : Dean | In : ebooks, Tech and Teaching, Technology

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Because everyone should check out the Idea Channel. Always. Because, reasons.

Spring 2011: Semester Changes & the New Offering

Posted on : 18-01-2011 | By : Dean | In : Literature, Science Fiction, Teaching, Tech and Teaching, UWP


I have made a few conscious changes to the classes that I am teaching this semester. One of them I have wrestled with for a long time.

1. Walden gets a rest, sort of.

Probably the biggest change to my EN227 class is the omission of Walden. It’s a book that is rarely appreciated by students on a first reading. I have come to accept that this is not only because it is difficult in its use of language and allusions, but because many of its central arguments contain contrary notions. Those elements are often read as contradictions, errors in logic, rather than nuanced acknowledgements of differing strains of Thoreau’s experiment. It is difficult to get past these things, so we’re going to try a few shorter pieces. Never fear, though, as I have included a chapter or two from Walden.

2. Nothing Online!

Although I have had overwhelmingly positive feedback on the courses that I have taught in Second Life, some students may note that there are no offerings there this semester. Those who have taken those classes know how much work goes into them, and while I am an advocate for such venues for online instruction (a much better choice because it offers real-time discussion), the fact is that Parkside doesn’t have the software or the support in place to facilitate these offerings. I may return to the virtual classroom in upcoming semesters, but spring will offer a welcome break from the computer programming and administrative work that was involved to ensure the success of the course I taught there.

I have kept Snow Crash on the list for EN237, though, and I am teaching the class in a computer lab, so there is always that chance for a foray or two into the world of Goreans and Furries!

3. Steampunk and the bookstore!

I have wanted to teach Steampunk in a sixteen-week format since I first taught a brief summer version of it two years ago. This semester will be my chance. I taught Cyberpunk over the 2010 summer session, so spring will offer a nice compliment.

I have found that both courses offer a challenge: Books. With many of the titles being tossed from one publisher to the next or in out of print status (with new titles available through amazon), coordinating with the bookstore is difficult. I have added a few books to the list available through the bookstore, and we will have to discuss options for the readings.

*It should be a wonderful semester. I still get a bad case of nerves the night before classes start. I won’t sleep tonight, so those of you who see me in the hall or in class tomorrow may mistake me for an animated corpse. That’s nothing new, though.

Second Life Revokes Educator Discount

Posted on : 15-10-2010 | By : Dean | In : Rants, Teaching, Tech and Teaching, Technology

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At a time when universities across the country are being forced to make deep cuts, Second Life announces:

2) We will adjust how education and non-profit advantages are provided, effective Jan. 1, 2011.
All education and non-profit private regions of any type, purchased after Dec. 31, 2010, will be invoiced at standard (i.e. non-discounted) pricing. All currently discounted renewals which occur after Dec. 31, 2010, will be adjusted to the new price at that time. To continue to provide entry-level, private spaces to educators just launching their programs, we will be providing Homestead and Open Space regions to qualifying organizations without their meeting the retail full-region criterion. Customer Support will be available to answer any questions that you may have about these changes.

And in reaction to this ridiculous decision, universities may have to abandon their virtual campuses. From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Officials at one discussion session here at the Educause conference yesterday spent an hour debating whether or not they should relocate their campuses—taking all the buildings, quads, and people and carefully moving them elsewhere.

The focus of the session was virtual worlds, and the academics were discussing whether to take their virtual campuses out of Second Life in protest, after the company that runs the online environment announced the end of a generous education discount.

University cuts are a result of state and federal budgets. Those cuts are not only equating to lower teacher pay, but few classes offered (hiring freezes are in place all over). In addition, the entire nation is falling behind far too many countries in student performance across the board.

Now Second Life wants to revoke a 20% discount on virtual land, effectively removing opportunities for campuses that are trying to start programs that incorporate the use of their environment to benefit students. I guess they are happy to simply remain a huge shopping mall and playground for escorts, furries, and goreans.

A Good Idea?

Posted on : 15-10-2010 | By : Dean | In : Teaching, Tech and Teaching, Technology

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The Chronicle reports:
Blackboard announced today that it is teaming up with a for-profit education provider, K12 Inc., to sell online courses to colleges that want to outsource their remedial offerings.

The companies say their plan will offer a new way for students who lack basic skills to get caught up. Blackboard would sell online courses that are designed and taught by employees of K12. The courses would be delivered on the Blackboard course-management system. It is the first time that the company has sold full courses, rather than just software to deliver them.

Exactly what courses will be offered and other details have not yet been decided, and officials say they are in the earliest stages of designing the actual product.

Read the rest here

Amazon & Macmillan: Dumb & Dumber

Posted on : 03-02-2010 | By : Dean | In : Gadgets, Publishing, Rants, Tech and Teaching

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The other day, I decided to buy a copy of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, a novel that received praise  from Publishers Weekly and several other sources. I logged into my amazon account, hoping that I could pick up a digital copy, something I normally buy first, and then if I like the book, I buy the print version.

And like most readers trying to buy Macmillan books on Amazon that day, I found myself in an annoying click-loop that didn’t get me to the checkout. I had not yet read about the little war with Macmillan and Amazon.

The outcome of this war could be just plain bad, or it could potentially be a reader’s worst nightmare.

First, let me say that the kind of electronic editions of books that can be bought on Amazon aren’t really books that you own. The DRM on them basically means that you are paying for the right to read them, not own them. They can be removed from your device, and they cannot be moved from that device. It’s analogous to building a room in your house that can hold 3500 books, and after you have paid to build it, the people who built the room and sold you the books to put in it start putting conditions on reading the books you thought you owned. Pretty bizarre.

Really, the only thing that would entice a savvy consumer to buy into such a raw DRM deal would be other nifty things that Amazon could offer. And they did that. They gave us cheap pricing, a nice base of books transmitted on a free 3G network, built-in dictionaries, text-to-speech functionality (well, for a while it was nice), and customer reviews, all easily accessible. They had a good thing going with the market share that gave them.

But then Macmillan decided that an e-book should cost exactly what a discounted print hardcover book costs. You know the ones I am talking about. They’re in the windows and in neat piles on the tables at Barnes & Noble. The ones that cost money to print, use ink, paper, have fancy color images. And oh, yeah. You own them after you pay. You can give them to whomever you want. You can read them without the person who sold them to you coming to your house and taking them back (thanks, amazon for deleting my copy of 1984!).

See, there’s a difference. And the same people who argue about books going digital say the reading experience and our relationship with print books is fundamentally different, too. The publishing industry has argued that a book is a special artifact, something that is physical and touchable and that reading in print is something that we will always want to do. There is a certain mystique associated with the experience, they argue, that is ancient and quite human somehow. I tend to disagree with this notion. While I am a one of those readers that loves to read a real book, fewer and fewer younger people feel the same way I do. In fact, the success of e-readers (not just the Kindle) are the cause of Macmillan’s repricing and Amazon’s dispute with them as much as their fear that amazon is moving into their territory. The proof is in the balance sheets, and Macmillan’s decision to raise pricing can be read as an admission, of sorts, that the e-market is growing at an alarming rate, or at least one that will eat into their traditional print revenue stream.

This isn’t a unique phenomenon. The music industry has been fighting the same digital content fight for years, and they’re losing for the same reasons that Amazon’s approach will. Macmillan has actually done consumers a favor by spotlighting it.

I know a few musicians who pay the bills making music. They are quick to point out that their record sales are dwindling. Most of their money is made on concert ticket sales, promotional material, bags, shirts, ring tones, you name it. And the ironic thing is that the corporations who produce these records do very little to manage those alternative revenue streams. These are the same companies who have made the same arguments that the book industry is now making. They once claimed that there was “something about a record” that people liked. It was something that you could hold, something tangible–which is exactly why there are hundreds of millions of Americans maintaining their phonographs! Or not.

DRM has been and is currently destroying the music industry. We recorded albums on vinyl and gave them to our friends to listen to, then we recorded tapes and did the same thing. Miraculously, people still made music and record labels still made money. That’s because the average person likes to pay freely for things that they find valuable and (this is important and what the industry doesn’t get) that they own.

It’s obtuse for the publishing industry to try the same failed approach. And it’s worse with print books. Talk to any writer with any of the big publishers. Ask him or her about how book tours and promotions work these days. Writers are free to do them, pretty much at their own expense, except maybe the top one or two percent. Why don’t these companies get that their services in the future won’t be merely (or maybe even primarily) the production of books any more than, say the music industry produces records? or more aptly, in the case of companies more suited to adapt to the shift in content delivery, the movie industry is solely is in the business of producing DVD’s.

Rather than get creative, the publishing houses are taking the low road. They will start by trying to muscle e-books out of existence by not only speaking dreamily about how lovely it is to curl up with a book, but now by trying to make the problem go away by charging the same for the book and the limited license to read the book. The latter is equivalent to producing a booklet of color photos on nice paper, with a nice cover, and then producing a series of jpegs of those photos, and then trying to make the insane claim that they cost the same. Anyone who has made a photocopy and downloaded an image knows that one of those two has no real production cost.

And let me guess. Once the readers react to the pricing on books they don’t own by finding places where they can get the real rights to their texts, the industry will react by trying to legislate p2p e-book transfers out of existence. They might even give the company that they sue a face, maybe one with nice little cat-like Napster ears.

Today, the Author’s Guild and Literary agents lauded the move by Macmillan as one that will be good for the industry. Of course it will. It will nearly double revenue on something that costs zero to reproduce. I am guessing that amazon won’t fight too hard on that score. They have nothing to lose by charging more, really. The readers will pick up the bill.

Study Shows Online Instruction Beats Classroom

Posted on : 19-08-2009 | By : Dean | In : Tech and Teaching



The NYT writes:

A recent 93-page report on online education, conducted by SRI International for the Department of Education, has a starchy academic title, but a most intriguing conclusion: “On average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”

The report examined the comparative research on online versus traditional classroom teaching from 1996 to 2008. Some of it was in K-12 settings, but most of the comparative studies were done in colleges and adult continuing-education programs of various kinds, from medical training to the military.

Read the rest of the article at the New York Times.

Many administrators look at online courses as clones of the old correspondence course, where students mailed in essay answers to questions and took proctored or essay tests. And early versions of distance learning did follow such models, except the correspondence was done via email. That has led to current views of distance learning instruction as somehow less-than and easier-than classroom instruction. Such views couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Technological advances like VOIP, podcasting, and virtual classrooms make teaching such classes far more prep intensive, and the instruction itself, if presented in a manner that approaches seamless, is far more difficult in many ways than classroom versions of the same course. Imagine trying to teach a class, field questions, and deal with incoming messages and tech concerns as you try to maintain the focus on the material that needs to be covered. It becomes a regular juggling act.

On top of that, course materials need to be reformatted for download, lessons must be tailored to whatever online form that they will take, and often work persists after the class session is complete, to ensure that the lessons can be made available to students in their entirety.

Add to that the typical time spent grading and fielding student questions, and I would estimate that online courses take at least seven or eight times as long to prepare and administer. That’s the case with my online classes.

Is it worth it? The study commissioned by the DoE shows that it is indeed, to some degree. The benefits aren’t difficult to imagine, considering what is left available to students. Entire classes are recorded, and they can return to them at any time, not only to review particular sections of a lesson, but my students have also used such reviews as a way to further engage either me or the class.

It’s nice to see that online instruction is getting some props.

The Sims Used in CS Classes

Posted on : 16-08-2009 | By : Dean | In : Tech and Teaching


The Chronicle of Higher Education writes,

Alice, the software program he created to entice students, is now being used at about 15 percent of colleges and universities nationwide. This month, a beta version of Alice 3.0 will be released, letting students create animated movies and games with new characters from The Sims video games and teaching advanced users the Java programming language in the process. The software is freely available from Carnegie Mellon’s Web site.

Read the entire article at the Chronicle

While the switch to actual coding is still in beta Alice, it’s an interesting way to get students engaged in programming, for sure.

Textbooks on Your iPhone?

Posted on : 16-08-2009 | By : Dean | In : Tech and Teaching



The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

CourseSmart of San Mateo, California, already makes more than 7000 college textbooks from 12 publishers available to its subscribers online via their computers, but now the company has added “eTextbooks for the iPhone,” allowing students to free themselves from even having to lug around their heavy laptop computers.


Don’t get me wrong. I like my iphone a lot. But I just don’t see using it to do any serious studying. Maybe it’s my old eyes, but I can’t imagine trying to examine the numerous figures, tables and charts that fill textbooks.

And the urge to text is that-many-millimeters closer to you the whole time.







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