About Stevon Roberts

Stevon Roberts is an award-winning videographer who began working in 2004 at Oregon State University to produce and edit educational media. Currently, he works as Instructional Media Coordinator for the Center for Teaching and Learning and Technology Across the Curriculum.

Ed Tech on the Edge: Demo and Dialogue

Mark Dinsmore, from Technology Across the Curriculum, pilots this telepresence device by Double Robotics.

Mark Dinsmore, from Technology Across the Curriculum, pilots the “Mark IV” telepresence device by Double Robotics.

Outside of conferences like Educause, or trade expos like CES, instructors don’t have many dedicated opportunities to interact with different technologies designed for (or leveraged by) educators. OSU’s Center for Teaching and Learning sought to remedy that in its first-ever session with an exclusive focus on Ed Tech, hosted by Cub Kahn and me.

The highlight of our session was a telepresence device by Double Robotics. If you can imagine an iPad running Skype or FaceTime, mounted on a tiny, remote-controlled Segway, you’re  close to getting the idea behind Double.

“While roving with my Double, Mark IV, I am continually surprised by the reactions from people I encounter,” says Mark Dinsmore, from OSU’s Technology Across the Curriculum (TAC) program. TAC purchased the Double in November. “Usual reactions range from, ‘Ewww, creepy’ to ‘That’s fantastic. Is your last name Jetson?’ Functionally, using the Mark IV allows me to be at my desk while visiting with colleagues down the hall or in The [Faculty Collaboration] Zone, sharing in a brainstorming session. Using the Mark IV brings a new dimension to collaboration for me.”

In December, the TAC director, Jon Dorbolo, brought the Mark IV for a faculty visit to the OSU Cascades Campus, while Dinsmore piloted it remotely, from more than 100 miles away. “Realignment of space/time creates opportunities for relationship,” says Dorbolo. “The potentials of human interaction have always transcended conventional limits. When the work-space and learning-space is anyplace, we accomplish so much more.”

Dinsmore visited two of the conference rooms and chatted with passersby in the hallway. The Mark IV can use both of the iPad cameras, one to look forward and interact with people and the surroundings, the other to look down (via a mirror) and see the local terrain. With the head retracted, its top speed is approximately 1 mph. “I felt like I was piloting Curiosity [the Mars rover]… Had to be careful of wireless coverage,” Dinsmore recalls. “I did manage at one point to open the main doors using the handicap access button, but did not dare to venture outside… Unfortunately, I was unable to sample the pastries and refreshments.”

Along with the Mark IV demonstration, our session discussed some of the technologies highlighted in the Educause 2013 and 2014 Horizon Reports, and how they have influenced instructors and classes here at OSU.

Excellence in Media: Leading by Example

Last Thursday marked the first meeting of the Excellence in Media Professional Learning Community (PLC), a group of OSU instructors interested in delivering high-quality videos to students and peers. Today more than ever, faculty who want to delve into video production as a means to enhance their classes have many powerful, affordable hardware and software options to help them achieve their learning objectives. Rapid growth in online and hybrid courses, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), and high utilization of OERs (Open Educational Resources) have all led to unprecedented demand for high-quality educational media. You can see examples of good videos (and a few not-so-good) in places like the Khan Academy, TED, and Coursera.

So what is it, exactly that constitutes high-quality educational media? It’s more than just production value–certainly you can judge media by its technical achievements: is the video recorded in high definition? Is it well-lit? Is the audio clear? These are questions that can be answered with prescribed techniques, and our initial Excellence in Media PLC meetings will discuss these techniques in detail. But later, I hope we can also address the more difficult questions–questions of content. Are the concepts clear and easy to follow? How well are the messages getting through? Is video the best medium for communicating concepts about a particular topic, or are these concepts not really suited for visual treatment? These are difficult questions because there are so many diverse applications of video in educational environments. It’s not always abundantly clear why some applications of educational video are successful when others are not. Approaching this question from the reverse angle–i.e., what is it that constitutes poor quality in educational media–is much easier. Edward R. Tufte sets a precedent for this approach in his book, Visual Explanations. In the book’s third chapter, he deconstructs some popular magic tricks in order to describe what constitutes disinformation design. In other words, he attempts to explain what techniques constitute good information design by contrasting them with techniques that confuse or obfuscate, drawing attention away from critically important elements, which might spoil the illusion in a well-conceived magic trick. If we extend this analysis technique to video, we end up with something like the BBC series Look Around You (hilarious, by the way, and worth the click). This series exaggerates poor information design in video: poor context, lots of irrelevant (or inaccurate) information, and lengthy transitions and interstitials that don’t adhere to visual storytelling conventions or contribute to understanding in any meaningful way. This, at the least, gives us a partial list of what not to do.

One of my goals for the Excellence in Media series is to go beyond the technical considerations. I want to help develop a rubric for educational media that instructors can use to make judgements about what to do, both technically and conceptually. What characteristics do effective educational media have in common? How well does a particular piece of media fit with the learning objectives? And finally, is video the right choice for communicating a particular concept?

Tools for the MOOC

At the end of January, I started my first MOOC: E-Learning and Digital Cultures, offered by University of Edinburgh through Coursera. One of my goals early on was to compile a list of tools that I’ve used to organize and filter the massive flood of information that’s available to me. With over 7,300 active members, there are TONS and TONS of content being generated on an hourly basis! I was interested, but also humbled, to learn that more than 60% of the “students” actually have graduate degrees, so much of this content is incredibly sophisticated.

How do I keep up with the tweets, blog posts, discussions, etc., both inside and outside Coursera? The short answer is that I don’t. And this evokes a continual feeling of being left behind. It’s impossible to collect and make use of all of the information coming in, and that’s perhaps one of the greatest lessons that the MOOC can teach us: there’s no expectation that all of this content will be reviewed by all of the students. Some bits of information are ephemeral, and I’ll certainly be missing things. And that’s okay.

This is very unlike a university classroom, where missing details could prove disastrous for students. As a learner, I had to adjust my strategy. An early blog post along the way made this transition a little bit easier, with a concession that this was the new norm: you’re not accountable for all of the new content because there’s simply too much of it. Nevertheless, information was still coming in through many different channels, and I needed a very specific set of tools to filter, manage, and categorize the flood of content available to me. I also needed tools that would allow me to contribute and be heard. In addition to the class forums in Coursera, these included Hootsuite (for tracking tweets), Netvibes (for aggregating blogs and RSS content from other class members), and Drupal Gardens (for posting content to my own temporary blog).

For instructors, the lesson is in parity with the lesson for students: the body of knowledge available for texts and curricula never seems to stop growing, and a university classroom is yet another river adding to the flood of information that students must filter, manage, and categorize. Instructors will need new strategies (and maybe new tools) to help students focus attention on the important trends, how they’re related to course material, and how the trends are related to each other.

Related: Who or What is a Teacher on #edcmooc?

The Case for Gamification – TAC.FM

In this recorded episode of TAC.FM, Stevon Roberts and Mark Dinsmore talk about ways in which educators are applying game mechanics and game theory in educational contexts. The discussion begins with Valve software’s physics-based puzzle game “Portal.” The newest release from Valve, “Portal 2,” has a special distribution for educators, with map editors and access to community test chambers. If you want to try it out, be sure to visit teachwithportals.com, a clearing house that includes and allows submission of real lesson plans that can be used or shared among educators.

Minecraft is a sandbox construction game that goes way beyond what its basic geometries would suggest. Minecraft lends itself to incredibly sophisticated learning outcomes, particularly in the realm of computer science.  From basic understanding of transistors to extremely complex models of graphing calculators, the game is well-suited for these tasks.

The discussion concludes with overviews of modeling behavior in Second Life, and augmented reality applications that leverage the GPS function in mobile devices to achieve real-world outcomes in fun, fitness, exploration, and public safety.

Watch this episode now (74 minutes, Adobe Connect webinar. Feel free to use the playhead to skip past the first 5-10 minutes or so, which are mostly announcements)