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Category: Tech Tools (Page 2 of 2)

The VCCS is getting even Googlier

Google Apps for EducationWhen VCCS students, faculty, and staff log in to My VCCS to access their Gmail accounts after the Blackboard upgrade on May 17th-18th, they will notice that they have a host of new Google apps available to them. During the scheduled outage, not only will Blackboard Learn be upgraded to Service Pack 11, which includes new features like a survey tool and the on-the-fly embedded video tool, Video Everywhere, but VCCS’s Google Apps for Education tool set will also be expanded from its current set of core apps–Gmail, Docs, Calendar,Sites, and so on– to a broad selection of new “consumer” apps, such as YouTube, Google+, Maps, Books, Picasa, etc. There will be twenty-one new apps activated in all. These new apps will provide VCCS students, faculty, and staff with access to an even more powerful suite of cloud-based teaching, learning, social, and communication tools that can be used both in and outside of the classroom.

Google Apps TOS (click to enlarge)

However, there are some crucial steps that all students, faculty, and staff need to take to successfully access any Google Apps, including Gmail, after the upgrade. First, once these consumer apps are enabled, everyone in the VCCS domain must click through and agree to a new consumer Terms of Service (TOS) when they next login. No Google Apps can be accessed until users agree to these new TOS.

Second, when setting up a profile in Google Plus (G+), a Facebook-like social networking service included in the upgrade, it is especially important that users enter their correct date of birth. If they include a date of birth indicating they are younger than 13, they will be permanently locked out of all Google services. This cannot be undone without significant effort and additional costs.

While these steps are relatively easy to accomplish and will only be required once, it is important that all users, especially students, are aware of them in order for the upgrade to go as smoothly as possible. To that end, it is crucial that this information be shared widely with students, faculty, and staff at all 23 VCCS  colleges.

More information about VCCS Google Apps for Education can be found at (built with Google Sites, by the way). Or feel free to contact me at rsebastian@

VCU Online Learning Summit 2013

VCU Online Learning Summit

If you are in the Richmond area on May 14th, or want to justify a spring trip to our fair capitol city, you may want to consider attending the Online Learning Summit at Virginia Commonwealth University. Seasoned keynoter Gardner Campbell will be headlining. There is no opening band or cover charge. That’s right: it’s free.

If you haven’t seen or heard Gardener speak before, you can get a taste of what you are in for by viewing his spectacular keynote speech at the OpenEd conference in Vancouver, BC last year. I wrote about it here. The link to the recording is here.

More info from the VCU Summit website:

The VCU Online Learning Summit is organized by the Center for Teaching Excellence at Virginia Commonwealth University. This regional conference serves as a multi-disciplinary forum for the discussion and exchange of information on the research, development, and applications of all topics related to teaching and learning online. We invite proposals of substantive, interactive sessions that will raise provocative questions, engage participants in discussion, and foster conversations.

If you want to submit a proposal, you have until Monday, March 1st, 2013. Visit the Online Learning Summit web site for more details:

This course brought to you by…

The Chronicle recently pushed out a number of articles on the current state of the college textbook. One of these articles, The Object Formerly Known as the Textbook, begins by acknowledging the changing nature of the textbook,  as not simply a repackaging of content into a new, digital new format (i.e. e-text), but as a new form of media altogether. Promising. But rather than exploring the potential of the open web and social media  to redefine the college course as something more than content, or mentioning platforms like PLEs, PLNs, and wikis, or tools like RSS aggregators, the article instead focuses on big P publisher’s interpretation of the modern textbook, as so-called “personalized learning experiences,” or a “course in a box”,  forms that essentially add a layer of interactive software overtop the same old content (albeit digital). It’s like tapping out a message in Morse code over the telephone.

“It’s not a textbook, it is an entire course,” says Jean Wisuri, director of distance education at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, describing a product called Course360, from Cengage Learning. “It has activities built right into the textbook itself.” A professor could essentially rely on a Course360 title as the full curriculum in an online course, letting students loose in the system and having them teach themselves. The Course360 titles connect to the university’s learning-management system, linking them directly into an institution’s existing virtual classroom.” Also: It slices! It dices! It juliennes!

Now, rather than simply relying on publishers to produce and polish a significant piece of a course curriculum–the textbook–publishers are now developing and delivering the entire curriculum, as well as creating assignments and giving the tests. When we peered into the future a few years ago and considered the possible outcome of the explosion of web-based technologies, the embrace of social media, and the promise of distance learning, is this what we imagined? The same pedagogy, only with a few bells and whistles added on and an even larger role for publishers?

The most distressing quote from the article that I think  captures the current reality that, for whatever the reason–budget cuts, impossible teaching loads, institutional culture–many post-secondary faculty are abdicating educational control of their courses to commercial vendors and publishers, like Pearson, is this one:

Mr. Finegold emphasizes that this doesn’t mean professors have to choose books from Pearson. But in the courses for which professors do adopt Pearson textbooks, that will represent an unusually deep role for a publisher—helping to build the virtual classroom, the curriculum, and the course materials. And that raises the question of why students need the university at all, if the publisher is the one doing much of the teaching. <emphasis mine>

I’m afraid Pearson already knows the answer to that question.

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