Badging in the Media Center

Eli's Merit Badge

“Eli’s Merit Badge” by Karen Apricot.
Used under a CC-BY-SA-2.0 license.
Click for link to original.

How many of you have jumped on the badging bandwagon? If you have, I’m curious which wagon you’re on? I’ve probably been optimistic about badging for 2-3 years now, ever since hearing about badging at an ELI Conference.

So far, though, we’ve only had one real wagon pull out this station, but it was a good one and it was connected to a campus course. Instructional Designer Mike Goudzwaard worked with Professor Michael Evans on an interdisciplinary course on “Science and Religion in America.” They developed several badges to track students’ progress through a set of digital scholarship skills. The decision to use badges, in addition to grades, was guided by a desire to communicate student competency beyond the grades alone.

Here in the Jones Media Center, my staff worked with the Prof. Evans to develop a badge sequence for learning to use the Mediathread platform created by Columbia University. The badging outcomes ranged from “attend a training” to “create a Mediathread project based on training.” You can read more about the course and badging in Joshua Kim’s interview with Michael and Mike for the Inside Higher Ed blog.

While that is certainly the first badge program we’ve worked on, I hope it’s not the last. I’ve wanted us to develop badging for other courses, too, but the challenge, I believe, is that it needs to permeate the course to be meaningful, in the way the Prof. Evans used badging throughout his course. We are always trying to develop the skills of students as they complete multimedia/multimodal assignments. This involves, in particular, camera skills, audio recording skills, editing skills and storytelling skills. I’m hoping that we can put together a package of multimedia badges that we can offer to faculty who are ready to employ badging in their courses. While I’m not 100% sold on badges, I do think it is important to have a way to recognize the skills students learn in a given course, and badging provides more information than does a letter grade on a transcript.

But, I’m also trying to implement badging as part of our student training process, too. Whether student work for us essentially as circulation assistants or as technical assistants, defining a series of proficiencies that they can, ultimately, leave with, should not only make it easier for them to describe what they have done while working for us, but also make it easy for us to more reliably describe their accomplishments when we get contacted as a reference. I think badging also offers possibilities for opening up higher-end professional grade media equipment to our students—complete a badging sequence, receive badge, show us the badge on your LinkedIn page and now the (gimbal, jib, drone, dolly, DSLR) is available to you to borrow.

What about you? Is your media center badging as part of your instructional design work or for your student employee program? What challenges are you facing? I’d welcome your thoughts.


Educational Technology and “The Martian”

It has been far too long since I added a new post. Life just sort of gets in the way sometimes. But, I was inspired to post again.

Having just completed Andy Weir’s The Martian, I’ve been thinking about media, technology and applications of both to educational technology. If you haven’t already read Weir’s debut novel, a highly enjoyable survival story of an astronaut, Mark Watney, left behind on Mars when his crewmates suddenly are forced to flee the planet, I strongly recommend it. It reads like a longer version of the Apollo 13 mission. Remember the scene in the film adaptation where a guy shows up with a cardboard box of parts that look like an auto mechanic’s yard sale and says, “I think we can save them”? The Martian is like that for nearly its entire length.

"The Martian 2014." Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia -

“The Martian 2014.” Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia –

What does that have to do with educational technology you ask? As a classic survivor tale, the book is about all of the following (yes, there’s overlap, but bear with me):

  • Resource Constraints: Mark Watney is constantly analyzing what he has in terms of resources and how to make the most of those resources. Most of us working in educational technology often feel constraints on our resources: dollars, equipment, space, time, etc. Like Watney, we’re regularly challenged to make the most of what we have. Of course, while our livelihood depends on it, our lives do not. 
  • Tools: when is a hammer not a hammer? When it can be sharpened into a stake. That’s not in the book, but our fearless astronaut is always rethinking how to use or repurpose his toolset (see Resource Constraints above). I recall a story I read many years ago when Microsoft brought Office users in for a focus group and the engineers were flummoxed to discover that users rarely used the tools they, the software engineers, developed in the way they expected the users to do so. Some of the most successful applications of educational technologies occur when people realize that a tool can be used in completely new ways.
  • Optimism: Throughout Watney’s ordeal, he never loses his sense of optimism. He knows his decisions mean life or death, which perhaps helps, but he never completely gives in to the despair that would likely cost him his life and he seems content to “die trying.” Optimism drives us to keep trying new things. Very few of us (I hope) have simply thrown up our hands and said, “Alright, then, keep your chalk and your slate tablets and go back to your lecture”!
  • Humor: Hand in hand with the optimism, Watney never loses his sense of humor. Most of the story is told through journal entries. He realizes he may die, but if he does, he wants others to know how he lived (and possibly died). While he doesn’t sugarcoat his situation, he also doesn’t dehumanize the entries by recording “just the facts, ma’am.” The colleagues I’ve met in the ed-tech field are some of the funniest/craziest/silliest folks I know. I think this goes hand-in-hand with the optimism above.
  • Throwing out what you don’t need: on several occasions, Watney’s survivability depends on throwing out what isn’t essential to the task at hand. He realizes there is risk in doing so, but sometimes he simply has to focus on the primary goal and everything else is non-essential. This is probably our biggest challenge, less so, perhaps, for ourselves, but more so in our work with faculty. Convincing faculty to strive for greater student understanding even it it means sacrificing content coverage is a good example.
  • Old technology: Watney’s enough of a voyager to know how to navigate by the stars, even when the stars (and the length of the day) are different when experienced on Mars. Still, at one point he fashions a makeshift sextent to navigate across the Martian landscape. I’m not advocating that we cling to old technology, but we certainly need to understand what makes/made older technology successful and, where appropriate, make sure we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Not only that, but sometimes the old technology becomes a great “plan B” lifesaver.
  • New technology: Of course, he wouldn’t be on Mars in the first place if it weren’t due to new technologies–nearly all of it designed to save the lives of astronauts. I’ve often repeated the line that, in higher ed, “nobody ever dies in a computer crash.” Thankfully, that is true for us. Nevertheless, as educational technology professionals, this is (a large part of) our lives. While we are the ones who often introduce new technologies to our campus, we must be equally responsive to new technologies arriving on our campus brought by students, faculty and other staff. We are constantly walking the line between being reactive and proactive. Unlike the tech for our astronaut hero, not all of the technology that comes our way is there to help us.
  • Applied knowledge to new situations: however, it is Watney’s ability to combine knowledge of both old and new technology that improves his chances to survive. This is the meat and potatoes of our profession–how do we take what we know about teaching and learning and apply new technology to create more successful solutions. We constantly remind ourselves, and our faculty, that it isn’t the technology, but the teaching and learning that counts. For better or worse, though, any campus that doesn’t embrace a certain level of technology is likely to find itself out of business or in an increasingly narrow niche market. 
  • Perseverance: Watney never gives up, not just on his mission to survive, but even on his mission as an astronaut, collecting and labeling rock samples during his trans-Martian journey even if he is unable to deliver them back to earth. I hope that, like our Martian explorer protagonist, you wake up each day with the same desire to push onward with the mission to improve the teaching and learning experience on your campus, leaving enough of a record for others to learn from what you’ve done that has succeeded and what hasn’t. 
  • Collaboration: Not to spoil the book, but Watney doesn’t just MacGyver a new spaceship and send himself home. Everything leading up to the book’s conclusion is a combination of Watney’s own efforts and ingenuity, along with what is probably the single most expensive rescue attempt operation the Earth has ever seen. Collaboration will make or break the outcome. That is certainly true for us. Our positions are essentially defined as collaborative at the outset, and our success depends on multiple collaborations within our institutions.

What about you? Have you read The Martian? In what other ways does your job seems like a survivor story? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

As sort of a postscript, there are two other media-related themes that were harder to connect to our profession, but wanted to add nonetheless:

  • Fondness for old media: I think it suffices to say that old media, in particular TV and music from the 1970s, is a recurring theme in “The Martian.” In fact, except for the location and some newer contemporary references, this novel embraces the 1970s in many ways.
  • Media obsession with crisis: though downplayed in terms of text and page time, it wouldn’t be a contemporary tale without mentioning the Earth-based media attention Watney’s survival and rescue attempt tale garnishes, with a daily show on CNN to update viewers on the latest events. Even that is reminiscent of the media attention paid to the Iran hostage situation of 1979-81, with nightly updates throughout the 444-day ordeal.

A Different Kind of Course Credit

Here’s a thought…

Sample of course credits scroll

In a world…

Movies and television shows (and even video games) offer viewers an experience over a period of time. At the end, even if you don’t stay tuned until the lights come up or the commercial break begins, the credits roll, listing all the people who have helped bring that experience to the audience.

Courses, too, offer an experience over a period of time and are rarely prepared and delivered wholly through the efforts of one person. Why then do courses not include credits? After all, for many people outside of higher ed, there is often a lack of understanding about what is actually involved in teaching today. More importantly there is a lack of understanding about how many people are involved in “producing” a course.

Yes, I realize that unions are primarily responsible for making sure everyone is credited in an entertainment industry production. But, when someone asks why a blockbuster film costs so much, it is pretty easy to point to the credits to show all the people that needed to be paid in order to bring that film to the screen.

But for courses, other than the professor, what about acknowledging the librarians, the library staff, the instructional designers, the LMS administrators, and others who have played some direct role in helping to deliver that course?

Just about the only time anyone seems to publicly acknowledge the various people who indirectly contribute to the education a person receives is when a class valedictorians has their brief moment at the podium to thank “all the teachers and administrators” for helping get them where they are. But let’s face it, that’s like the opening credits of season one of “Gilligan’s Island,” in which the Professor and Mary Ann are reduced to “…and the rest.”

This isn’t about ego, it’s about recognition. Students earn course credit. Faculty are credited as course owners. Maybe it’s high time for giving credit where credit is long overdue.

Of course, the tricky part may be figuring out whom to include and where exactly to let these particular credits roll.

A New Kind of Zombie

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty much over zombies. I mean, I’ll still continue to watch The Walking Dead, because it remains a pretty compelling television show, but for me, zombies (and vampires!) have pretty much run their current course, with two notable exceptions.

Not your average flesh-eating monsters.

Not your average flesh-eating monsters.

The first is BBC’s In the Flesh, which aired last summer. It is a post-zombie show, both figuratively and literally. The zombie uprising is over and now those affected by the illness, who have not already been put down permanently, are back among the living, survivors with PDS (Partially Deceased Syndrome) who must check in with social workers and maintain a medication regimen to keep the illness in check. But both the normal humans and the PDS zombies must still deal with the memories and knowledge of the atrocities that followed the outbreak, and must work out how to live together once again. While the show walks a familiar path of allegory for contemporary social and domestic issues, as well as the older topic of “otherness,” it changes the whole zombie dynamic. The typical zombie carnage is largely in the past, and the violence that remains, both physical and emotional, is perpetrated almost wholly by the living. I know that BBC intends to create a second season, and the 3-night mini-series certainly left a number of issues unresolved. At the same time, I’m not sure that there is enough to sustain a longer show. It would be sadly ironic for the show to become afflicted with its own form of PDS.

The second series, on the other hand, has much more storytelling to do. I’ve just binged through the first 13-episodes of the Japanese animated series Attack on Titan and I have not been so caught up in a show in quite a while. Part of it is the pacing (time flies!) and how each episode seems to end with a cliffhanger that compels you watch just one more episode. Titan is that guy at the costume party that spent two years preparing a costume, just in case. It is a zombie show unlike any other. The “zombies” here are certainly mindless man-eaters, but they are not really zombies in the sense of being the risen undead. Here, they are the titans of the title. They are giant (3m-15m tall), asexual, human-like creatures who roam the earth consuming people. In the first season, we learn that they showed up over 100 years prior and nearly wiped out all of humanity, but we still don’t know where they’ve come from. The humans responded by building and withdrawing to a multi-walled nation-state and a peaceful existence has persisted for nearly a century. In episode 1, new titan variants appear on the scene and breach the outermost wall, opening up a new era of bloodshed. Our primary characters begin as young teens who soon find themselves volunteering to train as warriors in the Survey Corps branch of the military, to serve the nation at the front in the ongoing battle against the titans. I’m oversimplifying so as not to give too much away, but Attack on Titan is one of the darkest, most gut-wrenching, and brutal animated shows that I’ve watched. But, it is also a bright, action-packed, incredibly well-done adventure series that is compelling to watch. There is also plenty of mystery remaining as humanity learns more about this enemy and how to survive against it. I’ve already started on the next 13 episodes. [Did I mention it has been a huge commercial success as well, with sales of the original 12-book manga series reaching over 28 million volumes?]

I know that Japanese anime is not everyone’s cup of tea, and I’m not sure that Attack on Titan is likely to change your mind. However, if you are a fan of the zombie genre but are looking for something fresh and new, I strongly recommend it. If you prefer flesh-and-blood actors, maybe In the Flesh is more your cup of zombie brew.

In the Flesh is available on DVD now and Attack on Titan is available to watch free on Funimation’s web site ( or on CrunchyRoll (, with DVDs releasing later this year.

MOOC Immobilized

This fall I am once again enrolled in a MOOC course (redundant?). This is my third attempt to finish a course, and with each one I make a little more progress. This time, in particular, I put a little skin in the game–I signed up and paid for the certified level of the course. 320px-Denver_boot

If you are not familiar with Coursera’s Signature Track it involves a system for trying to verify the work that you submit is actually yours. Every time I attempt a homework quiz, this system asks me to check a box stating that the work is mine. It then lights up my computer’s built-in camera to take a picture in order to confirm me visually. Finally, I am asked to type a statement certifying the work is my own, and my keystrokes are used to “fingerprint” my typing style.

Overall, it’s not a bad system, though I recognize how it possibly could be exploited. More importantly, though, is how things can go a bit wrong for a valid and earnest “student,” such as myself.

Up until two weeks ago, the course has been going well. That’s when my travels began-a week of vacation and then a conference. The night before leaving (a Friday night), I scrambled to finish the work that was due by the following Tuesday. Then, when I next had network connectivity, I downloaded all the videos for the next lesson, not knowing when I might have another connection. [Note: This was a great relief, and a great help for students who may not have persistent Internet access.] My intentions were good, but traveling being what it is, I was not able to finish watching all the videos on my regular timeline.

One trip finished, but another was about the begin, and now I was a week behind. I was relieved to discover, however, that the Tuesday deadline for homework submission had now been extended to Saturday. I proceeded to download the new videos and committed to catching up during my second trip. Coincidentally, I also decided to travel lighter, taking only my iPad and Bluetooth keyboard, instead of a full laptop.

Each night I watched videos, made notes, read related materials and completed ungraded mini quizzes. By Thursday night, I was ready to complete the graded homework and then it hit me. Could I complete the Signature Track requirements with the iPad? It has a camera and a keyboard, but…it doesn’t do (Adobe) Flash! Sure enough, there was the tech note on the Coursera site confirming that the Signature Track is not currently supported on mobile devices.

I was prepared to borrow a laptop from another conference attendee but thankfully the hotel provided the solution I needed. The “business center” not only had computers, more importantly it had contemporary desktops with built-in webcams! Yay! I completed my assignment and successfully submitted my work.

Lesson learned. Read the fine print. MOOCs may not yet be fully “mobilized” even if most of content is readily accessible. Now back to catching up, on my laptop.

Initiation Pain Level Zero

[This blog entry of mine was originally posted on August 23, 2012, at Jessica Olin’s blog, Letters to a Young Librarian. I want to thank her for getting me to write again.]

About 17 months ago I joined a new community, one that I had only ever imagined myself joining about a dozen times before. But the entrance was barred, I believed, by the lack of a degree. Specifically, I became a part of the library community, and I did it without an MLIS degree. Much to my surprise, I was not alone, though I still refrain from calling myself a “librarian.” Librarians, after all, have earned the title through years of study, practice and/or a combination of both. Nevertheless, I was welcomed to the community and am quite happy to be here. Of course, it helped that the library staff and administration here at Dartmouth College Library made my transition a smooth one. 

Before I go into how they managed that, allow me to provide a little background. I have been bouncing, albeit slowly, between technology positions (computers, multimedia) and teaching positions (Japanese, English, technology) for a number of years, ultimately bringing the two together as an academic technologist. I came to Dartmouth four years ago to head up the Arts & Humanities Resource Center (AHRC), which provided technology and teaching support to A&H faculty. During the economic crisis of the past few years, Dartmouth saw a lot of reorganization and the AHRC as it existed was no more. I applied for and was hired as the Head of Digital Media and Library Technologies in the spring of 2011.  That’s how I joined one of the biggest organizations on campus, with close to 150 staff members and probably the largest population of student employees, too. Despite having heard some rumors about the library community here from friends who work there, I still didn’t know what to expect. I have since learned that our library takes “community” very seriously. Here are some of the things we do to promote that:

Two or three times a year we run new employees through a library orientation process. Over the course of six weeks, the group spends up to an hour in each of the library’s departments (e.g. cataloging/metadata, acquisitions, interlibrary loan) and affiliate locations (e.g. special collections library, biomedical library, storage library), getting to know the staff in each location as well as gaining an understanding of the work done there and the role that department plays in the overall library organization. The orientation begins and ends with sessions with library administration. While the immediate benefits seem obvious, there is an additional benefit, too. The group of new hires is itself comprised of staff from around the library, which helps you make personal connections beyond your own department.

Candidate Presentations and Hiring
As you may expect, we do a fair amount of hiring throughout the library. For all professional positions, the candidates are expected to do a presentation. What is unusual is that the presentations are open to the entire library staff. Having gone through the experience myself, you can imagine the surprise on candidate’s faces when they have an audience of 50 people. What’s more, all staff members are invited to weigh in on the candidates through an open online feedback form. You may be a library programmer, but your opinion of the biomedical librarian candidate is just as valued. We’ve talked to candidates who have commented that the audience for the presentation was not only memorable in comparison to other interviews, but also that the diverse audience sent a strong message of library community. Oh, and once hired, there is almost always a welcoming event that is open to all staff.

All-Staff Meetings
Twice a year we have all-staff meetings. But if everyone’s in a meeting, who’s taking care of the Library? On all-staff meeting days, the program is run twice, with a morning session and an afternoon session. This allows staff to come at a time that is most convenient, while still keeping our service desks open. The meetings usually begin with introduction of new staff (sensing a theme here?) before launching into programs that are designed to inform the community of projects or changes, and may also include invited guests from other parts of campus. One all-staff meeting also becomes our annual “Inspiring Ideas Conference.” After opening comments and introductions, a keynote session is followed by break-out sessions where staff present to other staff on activities, tools, and services provided throughout the library. Past sessions have included coping with collection disasters (work, home, community), personal finance tools available through library resources, an insider’s look at the University Press of New England (UPNE), and hardware and software available for personal use through the media center.

Our organization also maintains a social support group known as the Dartmouth College Library Staff Association. You can see on the DCLSA home page  that the purpose of the group is three-fold:

  • Promote communication and cooperation among staff in the library through membership and participation in the DCLSA;
  • Provide a scholarship fund that offers members partial tuition reimbursement for continuing education courses or programs;
  • Promote staff morale and social relationships by welcoming new staff, administering staff welfare funds and sponsoring social or educational events

The events throughout the year are well-attended.

Taken altogether, I honestly can say that there is not another department or organization on campus that I’d rather be a part of. I’m glad to be a staff member of the library, and I do feel the initiation pain level was just about zero, without even a spoonful of sugar.

[P.S. I don’t advise searching Google for images with the terms “no pain” or variations thereof.]

Rethinking eBooks, or Selling Myself on e-Publishing (Part 1)

Reading books on an portable electronic device is nothing new to me. I’ve been doing it for probably 15 years or so, going back to Peanut Press titles on my Palm Pilot. My experience with interactive fiction goes back even further. And yet, I still have never been fully sold on eBooks, eMagazines and the like. But, I may finally be coming around to it, but only by changing my way of thinking, and watching as, hopefully, the publishing industry starts to change as well. 

The problem for me has been, I believe, that ePublishing has primarily focused on “how do we make books digital?” rather than “how do we publish effectively in the digital age?”

I’m still a huge fan of “dead tree” editions of both books and magazines. While I have cut back on both my subscriptions and the number of books that I buy, I have not moved those dollars to digital editions. For the most part, I’m not interested in simply having an “e-text” edition. While the digital version offers some convenience for portability and for storage, I’m giving up too much of what I enjoy about the physical thing.

However, more and more I find myself reading the paper magazines that I subscribe to and wishing for them to be more interactive. I confess, I’m not talking about The New Yorker or The Economist, though I’m sure they could benefit from some interactivity as well. My subscriptions include PC Gamer, Wired, and Popular Science. These publications now regularly include interactive elements, usually in the form of web links, but this requires me to fire up my laptop/iPad/or desktop and then my browser, magazine in hand. A digital version would take me right to the link or, better yet, embed the content right on the digital page. A few months after I read them, many of the news and opinion pieces of these magazines lose their value to me. I would throw out my back issues but for another feature that keeps them on my shelf–the DIY stories, the machinima video links, the coverage of game mods and free indie games. These aspects outlive the usefulness of much of the rest of the magazine. And frankly, it is just too much work to cull through the list of links and make my own reference guide, or even to rip out the pages that I want and scan them into my PDF library.

So, really, what I’m after is the best of both worlds. I want the paper edition that can live in my bathroom “reading basket,” as well as the enriched digital edition. But I’m selfish, and cheap. Don’t make me pay twice for the same subscription. Give me a blended price, not unlike the old model of a paper subscription with the disc stuck to the cover.

The MediaMixED Podcast #6: Getting Ready for Mad Men

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This episode is almost all about television! We touch on new seasons for returning shows, such as Mad Men and lament the loss of simple sharing via VHS, raising once again the spectre of DRM’s impact, and the fallacy of scarcity in the digital marketplace. Laura discovers Community and asks, “Is The Office too cruel for some tastes”?

In books, it’s The Information by James Gleick, Death Comes to Pemberly by P. D. James, The Jane Whitefield series by Thomas Perry, The Games by Ted Kosmatka, Dark Water by Koji Suzuki, and Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy by James A. Roberts.

Listen (mp3)

A Devil of a Deal: Ebook Pricing Model Under Investigation

There is an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about the Department of Justice’s ongoing investigation into possible price collusion among Apple and leading publishers with the release of Apple’s iBooks app on the iPad. At issue is the shift from a “wholesale model” to an “agency model” and Apple’s insistence that an ebook could not be sold for less by rival retailers. The deal gave Apple its 30% and kept prices high for publishers, who then imposed the model on other ebook sellers, most notably Amazon. 

While I’m glad this has caught the attention of the DOJ, I’m still less than pleased that ebooks are essentially sold to consumers under a “license” agreement model, which undermines the first-sale doctrine and prevents the sharing, trading, and reselling of text that would apply to physical books. Once again, it seems that consumers are getting the raw end of the deal. The software industry began taking away consumer protections with the nefarious “click-through” agreements. The videogaming industry now sells you content on a physical disc that can only be “unlocked” with an additional purchase, effectively making you pay twice for the same object. And there is still the infamous Amazon remote deletion of “1984” and “Animal Farm” from consumer’s Kindles. Who’s supposed to investigate those collusive practices?

Our Faustian bargain with industry returns again and again, as we trade away our long-term rights for short-term convenience with the click of the mouse or a tap on the “buy now” button.

The MediaMixED Podcast #5: Are we over physical books?

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On this episode, questions without answers. Do books define who we are? Josh considers getting rid of all of his books. Anthony goes “over the wall” of a Buddhist monastery. What does e-publishing mean for the future of Scholastic Books in elementary school?

Also, Josh continues to explore “collaboration space” in the Library. To what degree is our campus unique with the Library functioning as a study AND social center of campus?

In reading, Laura is working through a backlog of The New Yorker, Anthony finally finishes A Dance with Dragons, book 5 of the Game of Thrones series, and Josh is looking for suggestions. Maybe Matthew Pearl’s The Technologists will fit the bill. Anthony also turns back towards contemporary Japanese literature, beginning with Natsuo Kirino’s Out: A Novel, but also goes non-fiction in checking out Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy by James A. Roberts.

On screen, Josh finishes season one of Justified and is finally hooked into Downton Abbey. Laura wraps up her first watching of Firefly and prepares to embark on Breaking Bad, if she can find the time as new seasons begin for returning shows. Anthony checks out the original BBC series The Singing Detective. Prime Suspect may be cancelled, but Josh is really enjoying the recent episodes of The Office.

And someone really needs to get to work on a new game: Six Degrees of Harry Potter!

Listen (mp3)