New Year Resolution

I have been ignoring this blog for the last year, as I was immersed in building out the Illinois MakerLab (which did pretty well last year, Read More). I am going to make a more conscious effort this year to document my learning, experiments in teaching, research and my work at the MakerLab.  A public disclosure like this, should help me stick to this new year resolution a bit more.

Creating Value in F2F education

There is increasing debate of the value of expensive 4-year education, given the alternatives of open education(MOOC’s) or initiatives such as UnCollege. There has also been significant chatter about the impact of MOOC’s by elite universities on enrollments in the schools in the lower rungs of the academic ladder. Though illinois is a Tier I research university, and it also joined the Coursera platform earlier this year, there is significant soul searching across Illinois about the core value proposition of a four year experience.

I attended the #CFHE12 Mooc, and listened to an interesting talk by Rich Demillo, about how innovation in education is allowing for bypassing the gatekeeper function that traditional universities offer. The organizers/Moderators (not instructors!!!) , Stephen Downes and George Siemens have been promoting a view of learning (for the digital age) built upon constructivism  and have called it connectivism. This view of learning, removes the focus from the learner and puts it on the learning network that one can create around oneself.

Quote from website above: “Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.”

They make some interesting points
a. about the role of technology in replacing some of the cognitive functions earlier done by learners(think lower levels of blooms taxonomy),
b. About the change from ‘scarcity’ of information/knowledge to an ‘abundance’ of knowledge(think data explosion, open access, Mooc’s etc)
c. Learning as a self-organizing process to create sense out of chaos.

A recent presentation by George Siemens has some excellent statistics as well. Here he also talks about the Maker Movement(exemplified by the MakerLab that we are setting up).

Based on the context above, I have the following suggestions on what we as faculty should focus on.
1. Students need skills on creating and leveraging Personal Learning Networks, so that they can become lifelong learners.
2. We need to look at ourselves as “Guides on the side” instead of “Sages on the Stage”
3. We should focus on Peer learning, with a focus on hands on learning to create value for students who sign up for a traditional 4 year experience.



Gamifying the 4 year college experience

I have been researching on the use of gamification in teaching, and was fortunate to take the Coursera course on the topic with @kwerb.   I have some James Scholars at UofI helping me with the project. I have since started thinking about how this can be used to increase student engagement across the entire 4-year experience, outside of the core learning experience in classes. A discussion on increasing student engagement is timely, considering the increasing debate about the value of costly in person education in traditional B&M (for lack of a better word, but it draws interesting parallels with the disruption in retailing bought about by e-commerce) education at universities. Even without the threat from online open education(read MOOC’s), the graduation rates are quite low.  If we are able to increase student engagement outside of the classroom, we may have a better chance of maintaining a value proposition for our universities.

I went looking for an open framework on which you can build a platform for allowing multiple stakeholders to connect into, to capture many facets of student interactions, and create gaming elements and here is what I found.

1. Yammer + Badgeville: How about leveraging enterprise collaboration tool, yammer, along with a behaviour tracking/rewarding platform, to provide a pre-built solution? Looks interesting to me. Yammer has a freemium model which allows for easy trials, but badgeville integration with yammer seems to be behind a paywall. More on this later.

2. Just Press Play:I found this great platform being developed at Rochester. I hope to get access to it in Summer 2013. This is being used outside the courses for engaging students.

3. WordPress +plugins: Since we have just released a wordpress blogging platform at UofI, it seemed a good idea to look at a solution there. seems to provide a plugin into wordpress.There are some others as well, as described here, but most of them seem suited for an individual blog. Since everyone at illinois can set up a wordpress blog on this new platform, we need a solution that can integrate activity across all blogs under the domain of solution brings together my vision for a e-portfolio for each student with a gamification layer.

I hope to examine these options in detail soon.


Raspberry Pi(e)…..

I was feeling hungry for some intellectual stimulation, so I got myself a Raspberry Pi(e) (Pun intended). It was out of stock, since it seems to be pretty popular. Finally landed one, at Maker Shed, which is a cool website in itself for all geeky stuff.  Got it set up and working on a SD card I pulled from a camera, borrowed a monitor at work(oops..), an old keyboard/mouse combo, HDMI cable(sorry no VGA out) and all I needed was a power source. After some digging I found an old Samsung phone charger, which is compatible with the Pi and I am ready to go.

So essentially you have a stripped down Debian box running on a credit card sized board, which we can now call a computer( a clunky one I agree). If you are scared of the command line, you should not try this at all, but if you must try, there is a nice UI built in, called X,  which can be invoked by typing in  startx

Now for the first project. Youtube. Since the browsers that are built in to the do not support flash, I found an interesting set up for a youtube player, without flash, html5 required. Check it out

Now all I need is a case, which I found on thingverse. We are setting up a 3D printing lab at the College of Business as well, so why not print a case!!!

More updates soon.

What is Blended Learning ?

This post inspired by the call to action issued during the Blended Learning Toolkit Faculty development opportunity being run by UCF (BlendKit2012)

I have been using LMS quite intensively for the last 7 years, but my perspectives on what online/blended learning really changed when I was an online student for the first time two years back. I attended two courses on teaching online at Illinois Online network, in preparation for my first online course in Summer 2011. A brief overview of the course for Summer 2012 can be found online. Based on my eye-opening experience last summer, I converted the F2F version of course to a blended format in Fall 2012 .

So what is blended learning? or rather what does it mean to me. Quite frankly, I think we are missing the point when we say we want to offer a blended course, without first thinking about how we want to change our course. If the course is doing great as is, students are happy, the instructor is happy, do you really need a blended course?  Is it just because everyone wants to do sometime online, and you feel you might get left behind?

Hopefully that’s not the case and you have given some thought to actually why you want to try blended/online learning/teaching. Here’s my take on it. If you feel that within your world view of learning(and the role of an instructor), keeping in mind the objectives of your course, and the capabilities of your students, there is some benefit in taking some part of the experience in your course online, go ahead and read up some more in the Blendkit2012 course

I have successfully used a blended learning format in an introductory information systems overview course(declarative knowledge) and find that there is a great potential for increasing Student-Content and Student-Student interaction, and allow for scaling of Student-Instructor interactions. The primary pedagogical driver of this course is to base it in the constructivist philosophy, perhaps going closer to the “connectivist” view as explained by George Siemens. In essence, this changes the focus of the learning activity from impacting a students state of mind and consequently creating a change in ability (or potential thereof). The focus is now on connecting disparate sources of knowledge(people, documents etc), rather than on internalizing the knowledge itself. I dont subscribe to the connectivist view entirely, but I agree that our capacity to store and retrieve information internally is not a significant skill anymore, as that can be better done by technology.

However, I still see a role for students to create a mental map of essential concepts for a domain, which helps them apply new information to this mental model to make sense of what is going on around them. I do agree that students need skills to assimilate information from multiple sources, and be able to dynamically update their models. I like to focus more on developing their ability to update their mental models, by interactions with different people, using peer-learning.  This is where I see the most value in Blended Learning. Providing students with opportunities to interact with disparate sources of knowledge(people, documents, links etc) with appropriate tools for making sense of information, and enough time to reflect/assimilate this knowledge and then put up their response for peer review.






I have finally started on this long overdue project of putting together this blog on my own domain, after using several different platforms. I hope to use this platform to collect together my interactions in various platforms and reflect on my learning as a teacher, researcher and a parent. To start with, you can find more about me on

Linkedin  or Twitter