Saturday, February 1, 2014

Higher Education in the Digital Age

I haven't written anything here since last June, not because I haven't been busy with free software and free education projects, but because I have. I've been working on the following projects / initiatives, some on-going, and some new:
  • writing Open Book Project resources for Web Application Development, specifically HTML, CSS, SVG, and JavaScript resources
  • collaborating with Activity Central on a small XO-4 deployment with my beginning ELL students
  • collaborating with the SchoolTool project to develop SchoolTool Quiz
  • participating in Arlington Code Shop meetups at the National Science Foundation each Thursday evening
  • collaborating with my dear friend Khady Lusby on her Open International sponsored school in Senegal
  • working to create a student enterprise called NOVA Web Development that will offer aspiring young web application developers their first work experience
  • exploring data science as an area of study which we should be incorporating into our IT program at the Arlington Career Center
  • participating in the planning effort around a new STEM program at my school
So it's not that I haven't written because I have nothing to say, but rather that I've had no time at all to say it.

Oh, I forgot to mention that I'm in grad school at George Mason University (GMU) in a Doctor of Arts program in Community College Education. It is this last point that will compel me to be a much more active blogger over the next few months.  I'm taking a course called Higher Education in the Digital Age, and regular blogging is going to be a requirement for the course.

I haven't cleared it yet with our professor, but I want to make these blog posts serve double duty, to both meet the requirements of the course and to get back to documenting the free software and education projects on which I'm working. Let's see how it goes...

Here is our first weekly prompt:
"Describe a memorable experience (positive, negative, or somewhere in between) related to higher education in the digital age." 
Last semester I had my first experience with higher education in the digital age.  I took my first graduate class at GMU, a course titled "The Community College". The course was taught as a hybrid class.  We actually met in the classroom only twice - on the first day of class and the last.  The rest of the time we met either on-line using Blackboard's Connect features, or together on two field trips we took to Washington DC and Richmond.

I've been using Google Hangouts for meetings with folks around the world (SchoolTool meetings often had participants from Providence, Rhode Island, USA, San Salvador, El Salvador, Vilnius, Lithuania, and Arlington, Virginia, USA) and found Blackboard Connect to work similarly.  I loved being able to attend class and engage in lively discussions with my classmates while sitting in bed.  Given the over hour commute each way from Arlington to GMU, it was wonderful to have that 2+ hours back by participating in the class remotely.

Utilizing this same technology, we were able to meet with three guest speakers from remote places in the country.  The whole experience definitely struck me as an effective use of technology to eliminate the obstacle of location on the ability of a group of learners to share in a learning experience.

Given the difficulties of parking at GMU, it is an institution that can greatly benefit from this kind of use of technology.

I'm active in my local community, and I definitely prefer to attend gathering with my fellow community members at a shared location in real space rather than cyberspace. When long distances and inadequate public transportation make getting together in person difficult, however, these on-line real time collaboration tools are a good substitute for being there.

On a final note, it is my duty as a free software activist to complain that neither Google Hangouts or Blackboard Connect are free software.  I'm confident that as these technologies become more common place, free software tools to do this kind of collaboration will emerge.

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