So who are your students?

I get asked this question a lot when people find out I try to teach art history with a cultural studies angle to community college students – and do it online! I tell them to walk into the nearest grocery store, point to the first 33 people they see, and those could be my students. At the very least, the population will be as diverse in age, English language skills, computer skills, college preparedness and various disabilities. Most will not be the least bit interested in cultural history or studies unless I find a way to connect. My courses have a good amount of art students in them, but what many people don’t realize is that the art students are often the ones who care the least about art history. They just want to make stuff.
I know that 70% of my college’s online students are also taking classes on campus. They may or may not be taking my course online for good reasons. Some may think it is the easy way to quickly add another course to a full schedule, others that they don’t have to do as much work, others that it is going to be self paced – many just have no idea what they are getting themselves into.
Others know very well what they are getting themselves into – and are savvy consumers of online learning. If my course does not challenge and engage, if it is not organized well and if I am not responsive and present, and if the goals and activities are not clear and fair and interesting, they will not come back. They will not only not take a course with me, they will probably go someplace else, to another college, because they no longer have to stay where they are if they have bad courses. They can go where they have a better experience, where the tools are used in more sophisticated ways, where the processes for engaging with other students and instructor are more robust and consistent. I know this because I am an instructional designer and I read the student surveys and hear stories about courses that they take and I know I have to be on top of my game. Online learning is mature and highly competitive – I must play to win.
And yet interestingly, my classmates are almost as diverse as my students. Some are struggling to figure out how they will put their course into the online environment. Others are highly experienced and looking for new ideas. We are all different ages – although not nearly as old as some of the students in the SLN demographic breakdown. (Really? average age for the over 70 student population is 91???) I myself am wringing every little morsel of interesting new strategies and techniques and tools I can from this summer’s experience.
Watching the embedded videos in this module though, brought to mind concerns I have about our responsibility toward our students and their use of social technologies. We are in a technology shift. Not the first and no doubt not the last. When TV brought us closer to war in the 60s we saw massive anti-war protests. When advertising mastered subliminal messaging and “manufacture of consent” (thank you Chomsky for the phrase) we began teaching media literacy. Now we have social media, ubiquitous connections and big data. Most people use the digital communication tools of today as consumers. They do not know how they work, where the information goes, how it gets there and who stores it. They certainly don’t know how it gets used. How many people know that when they read on a Kindle the data about their reading patterns is collected? Is anyone concerned about the publishers “engagement tracking” tools in the eBooks they provide in their supplemental material? What about adaptive pricing based on data about your ability to pay collected from your purchasing history matched to your income data and demographics?
In all of the catchy, out of context factoids presented with dramatic music, I did not see one statement about the ramifications of so much data exchange or how big data is being used socially, politically, and economically. How social media and  “socialnomics” – is also social manipulation using data about individuals to shape the world in ways they do not see. Ironically, the very tools that could change the world in ways we need it changed are more often being used to manipulate our consumer desires and actions.
We have a responsibility to move beyond media literacy to data literacy. In a digital world, the lifeblood of all these connectivity tools is data, data, and more data. Will our students – will our teachers – ask the right questions about tools, social/digital presence, and regulation of the Internet and WWW?
At this point it might be apparent that I am a follower of such issues and find the Electronic Frontier Foundation to be an indispensable resource for informing my technology strategies with students. This graduate course so far has me experimenting again with many tools I discarded a while ago – Twitter for instance. But I am curious about them now because my students ARE using them and these now are mainstream tools for many and if I am to use them wisely with my students I need to know them well.

Our economy and culture – including our art and artifacts – will be digital and social. Social presence and social learning have new meaning in a digitally augmented world. And data is the currency for everything.


Another day, another course, another blog …

This new blog is for ETAP 640 at SUNY Albany, my penultimate course for the MS CDIT, a goal I have been pursuing for almost 10 years now. (My previous blog Consider the Source, at will undoubtedly be idle for a while, but is still pretty interesting according to my handful of readers). I will be using this new blog to reflect on my learning in this class – publicly. Of course you, dear reader, can expect that my deepest and most secret intimate feelings and thoughts will not be splattered all over the page in embarrassing detail. That would be inappropriate as we all have private feelings and thoughts and do not need to share all intimate details of our lives, or the lives of our very beautiful and extremely funny cats (ahem…) as many are prone to do in Facebook and other social media venues. I am sure you do not want to know what I have had for breakfast every morning either – nor view a photo of said breakfast. But hopefully when I start this blog up for real (maybe tomorrow morning after I finish all my set up tasks for the module) I will be able to contribute worthy reflections that others will actually find interesting, about the process of learning a new course management tool, new social media tools, and new ideas about teaching and learning in an active community of inquiry. And in carefully considering what to share and what not to share about my personal process, I can model appropriate digital presence for my students with whom I usually share my own learning activities – to a point…

So far this seems to be as functional, and maybe a bit more so, than other blog tools I have used. That is a good start. I made a banner, changed some settings, read some how-to material and will now try posting this to see how it looks. The fun begins with the next post!

(2) for set up, and irony