Monday, November 18, 2013

5 content archetypes

Here’s something that appeals to me, mainly because it seems like a very useful taxonomy. It comes to me via Stephen Downes’ website, OLDAILY, and he has re-posted it from David Armano’s page. Armano is a marketer, but his categories are useful for those focussed on education, I think.

He writes about five content archetypes:
  • Curated
  • Co-created
  • Original
  • Consumer-generated (Downes recasts this as “student-generated”)
  • Sponsored (recast by Downes as “board or department”)
From the perspective of the disciplines, these are important ways to think about content and how it is presented, e.g. via an LMS, for students.


One of the most difficult decisions a university teacher makes is the selection of materials that are listed in the reading list for a particular course. The question here is this: Which previously-published material (scholarly writing, web-based material, mass media) does my class need to consume to achieve the learning outcomes I have set for the course? Student time is precious. The selection of readings set for the course must be precise and on topic. If tangential material is included, make sure that students know it isn’t essential reading for the course.


Learning is a constructivist activity, even in the positivist disciplines. The co-creation of content – through projects, online discussions, group work, or even peer mentoring – engages students in the act of learning.


Sometimes, a teacher just has to write new material to get the point across.


In completing formative and summative tasks, students learn. No argument there.


University learning happens under the umbrella of the institution, and at times, the institution has announcements. Class management requires announcements. This too is content.

These categories of information can, I think, help in thinking through how an LMS site might be organized.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

3-minute thesis

This week, my university is running the 3-Minute Thesis Competition. This requires participants to provide a 3-minute summary of their research thesis. The presenters have no guarantee that members of their audience know anything about their discipline or their topic. It’s tricky – and many of them can’t do it.

My advice to them is to imagine that they have only a few minutes to describe their project to a friend of their grandmother’s at the Christmas Party.

This is a technique that could work as a classroom activity for large assignments or projects. It will force students to be very clear about what they are writing about.

For more information about the 3-minute thesis competition, go here:

Group work in unsuitable spaces

Quite often, I hear my academic colleagues say that it is too difficult to run learning activities in a tiered lecture theatre or some other horrible teaching space foisted upon them. This strategy requires only that each person is within earshot of three other people.

Try this one: Think, Pair, Square, Share.
  1. Pose a question.
  2. Give students 2-3 minutes to think about their answers (think).
  3. Get students to turn to the person next to them to talk about their conclusions (pair) for 5 minutes.
  4. Get each pair to join another pair to continue the discussion (square).
  5. Have each square report on their discussions (share).
 Don’t let each square report everything they said. Start with one group of four: “Report on one thing you discussed”. Ask each subsequent group to report on something from their conversation which has not already been mentioned. Once there are no groups with any new points to mention (or you have run out of interesting points to report), end the sharing part of the activity.

Korpi’s Rules

Today, in a discussion about engaging learning activities in the university classroom, an academic colleague introduced me to Korpi’s Rules. Walter Korpi is a Norwegian academic and past president of the Research Committee for the International Sociological Association. He developed a workshop-style meeting format for his peers which forces the presenter of new research to be very clear about the work.

It works like this:
  1. A paper for discussion at the conference is selected and circulated.
  2. A member of the group other than the author of paper (the discussant) presents the paper, based only on written material supplied by the author. No oral briefing or interaction between presenter/discussant and author precedes the presentation to the group.
  3. Following the presentation, the author takes questions about the paper.
  4. Finally, the group engages in a general discussion about the paper.
“… accepting a place on the [conference] program entails a commitment to complete the paper in time for others to read it and to come prepared to discuss papers. Equally, participants may expect to serve as discussant for another paper, and to open the floor with an incisive and fair assessment of its strengths and weaknesses.”
I can see this technique working as a classroom learning event. Not only does it force good, clear writing, it introduces social science students to a practice used by their more senior discipline-based colleagues.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Web-based tools for teaching

Here are a few free applications that might be of interest.

Padlet ( This provides users with a blank “wall” to which anyone logged in at the same time can post comments – “digital post-its”. It’s good for collaborative brainstorming and the like.

Voicethread ( This is a fantastic tool, but it isn’t free. The company sells Single Instructor, Department, and Site Licences. It allows users to upload, share, and discuss documents, presentations, images, audio files, and videos. Comments can be made (recorded and shared) using a microphone, a webcam, in a text file, by phone, or as an audio-file upload.

mQlicker (http://www.mqlicker): This is a web-based audience response application that provides “clicker” functionality in the classroom. Rather than using hand-held audience response devices, participants use their mobile devices (phones, tablets, laptops). Participants do need to be able to log on to the Web in the teaching space for the system to work.

Poll Everywhere ( This is another audience survey tool. The lecturer asks students a question using the Poll Everywhere app, students answer in real time using their phones, Twitter, or web browsers, and the responses are reported graphically on the web or in a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation.

Infographics: The web loves infographics. Sources for good infographics are becoming easier to find: one such source is Tools to create infographics abound (e.g. any graphic design program). Here are a couple of other useful tools to create simple infographics: Tagxedo ( is a tool that allows you to create word cloud in a certain shape and SimpleDiagrams ( is a tool that helps the user create … well, simple diagrams. It’s nice.

Edmodo ( This is a secure micro-blogging tool.

Presentation tools: I’ve mentioned Prezi (an alternative to PowerPoint and Keynote, found at in a previous post. I’ve come across two others since then: Glogster (, LiveBinders (, and SimpleBooklet ( all useful sites/tools.

Of course, these tools are only as useful as you make them ... and that takes imagination.