Tag Archives: ohio state

Writing MOOC

Recently, the Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies program in the Department of English at Ohio State was awarded a $50,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to create a “Writing II: Rhetorical Composition” MOOC.  Read more details on the OSU Department of English website.

What’s a MOOC? MOOC stands for Massively Open Online Course. So, imagine an online course that is open and (typically) free to anyone who wants to register. In essence, MOOCs bring information technology’s promise of exponential scalability to education.  And, obviously, there are some administrative challenges inherent to this kind of teaching.  The recent spectacular failure of the “Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application” brought MOOCs attention from mainstream media, in part because the course topic made the failure irresistibly ironic.

Can anything be taught in an online classroom with tens of thousands of students?  Apparently, yes.  I have friends who have learned programming languages this way.  Of course, programming languages are much simpler and easy to test (Does your program do this?  Good!  You pass the quiz!) than most human languages and particularly the advanced rhetoric of a language.

MOOCs frequently crowdsource some of the evaluation of student assignments — think peer editing — which may work well for advanced writing.  But, students who enroll with the expectation that they will receive 1/20th of the instructors attention, which they might receive in a traditional classroom, might be surprised by some of these techniques.

This is truly the cutting edge / Wild West of online learning.  The good news is, if you’re interested in learning more, you (and all of your friends) can sign up for the course yourself via Coursera, a “social entrepreneurship company” that has partnered with OSU and many other universities to offer MOOCs.

So, maybe the question is, can everything be taught with MOOCs?  It’s too early to answer that question.  But lots of people are asking it.

Will MOOCs eventually replace traditional brick-and-mortar institutions?  New technologies rarely replace old ones completely. For example, you have a television, but you probably still listen to the radio sometimes (in your car, when your iPod battery dies, say.)  But, if even moderately successful, it will be difficult for every school to compete with a free course offered by Harvard, MIT, or Stanford.  Or Ohio State.

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Kinect-Based IWB

infrared points of light projected from a Kinect

Ever since a $3000 bounty was placed on cracking open Microsoft’s fab new gaming hardware, the motion-sensing Kinect for Xbox, hackers and tinkerers have been putting the open-source drivers to lots of interesting uses on platforms that Microsoft never envisioned.  I’ve written about interesting Kinect hacks before (and before that,) and I’ve written about my experience with the Wii-based $50 Interactive Whiteboard (IWB,) but I haven’t seen a fully-developed Kinect-based Interactive Whiteboard.

Perhaps an Interactive Whiteboard is too narrow a description.  Many of the pieces are in place (see below) to interface with a computer using Kinect.  So, as with the Wii-based IWB, any application you can use on your computer can be controlled by this hardware.  If you connect your computer to a projector, you essentially have an Interactive Whiteboard.

Is the Kinect-based experience different from a Wii-based IWB or a Smartboard?  Almost certainly.  There would be no need to touch the screen at all, but rather to gesture in front of the Kinect to interact with the projection on the screen.  Would this be an improvement?  I’m not sure.  A touch-based IWB is more analogous to traditional whiteboard that uses markers and an eraser.  So, the touchless experience would be quite different.  I need to try it myself to really wrap my head around the opportunities that this motion-sensing interface offers.

I’m not sure if anyone here at Ohio State is working with Kinect as an interface for non-Xbox applications.  But I do know that the Digital Union has a Kinect which could probably be used to see if and how things work.  If anyone else is interested in trying to pull this together, drop me a line or leave a comment.

Multitouch with Kinect

Kinect on a Mac

Multitouch Kinect

Kinect Fingertip Detection

Kinect + PC + Mario = Fun


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Feeding the Extracurricular

facebook cupcakes

I’m a big proponent of extracurricular activities, particularly in an intensive ESL program.  Of course, the curriculum must be good — that’s a given — but the extra curricular activities play an extremely important role in students’ learning by immersing students in English through trips, activities, and connections to other speakers of English.

Like many intensive ESL programs, we offer a wide range of activities to students: field trips, conversation partners, movies, lectures, and more.  We have also started a Facebook page as a way to publicize our activities and to build community around these activities.  We have also embraced an online course management system (CMS) which we use to interact with and disseminate curricular information to students.  But, is there a way to integrate the two?

There is.  I have recently created a widget for our CMS that instructors can add to their course pages in order to put extracurricular info in front of students on a regular basis.  To do this, I took the feed from our Facebook page (originally I planned to use the RSS feed, but the atom feed displayed better on our pages) and fed it into feed2js.org to get javascript that I could configure to display the most recent items posted to our Facebook page.  (Feed2js also allows various combinations of colors, fonts and sizes via cascading style sheets, but unfortunately CSS are not compatible with our particular CMS.)

The result is a list of 5  extracurricular (or other) announcements and reminders that students can click on to see more information on our Facebook page.  As a bonus, the Facebook RSS feed only includes items posted by our page administrators.  So, even if students post messages on our wall, which we encourage, they will not be able to send messages out to all of our course pages.  And because our Facebook page is public, students don’t need to be logged in to Facebook to read these messages.

Does it work?  We’re still rolling it out, so it’s too early to call it a success.  But I think integrating our Facebook page into our course management system makes a lot of sense because it multiplies the usefulness and reach of our online presence.

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Exploring Learning Technologies Unconference (ELTU) 2

ELTU logo

The second annual (well, second ever) Exploring Learning Technologies Unconference is next week, Friday, May 21 from 9-1:30pm in the Science and Engineering Library at The Ohio State University.  ELTU2 is open to anyone in Ohio who is interested in the intersection between education and technology.

What is an unconference?  Think of it as conference 2.0.  It will have the basic structure of a conference (3 rounds of 48-minute breakout sessions) but the content of the sessions will be decided by the participants on the day of the unconference.  And because all of the sessions will be in one place, it will be very easy (in fact, participants are encouraged) to move between the different discussions, thereby cross-polinating them.

Last year this worked very, very well.  There were lots of great discussions between an interesting cross section of people at Ohio State.  This year, we’re opening it up to the whole state and already have participants registered from almost every corner.

Will you be in Columbus, Ohio on Friday the 21st?  Join us.  For more information, visit the unconference website tr.im/eltu2 or register at eltu2.crowdvine.com.

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How Safe Are You?


My dog, whose name is "12345."

The photo above is from a poster I see around Ohio State once in a while.  The caption reads, “Someone stole my password… now I have to rename my dog.”  I think it is an elegant way to state what is a very important message: choose a strong password.

What is a strong password?  One that cannot easily be guessed.  It’s easy to find lists of the most common passwords used online and, invariably, password and 123456 (or similar) is at the top of every list.  When I see this, I’m reminded of the movie Spaceballs, which was released in 1987.  In one scene from this Star Wars parody, Dark Helmet learns that the combination to the air shield around planet Druidia is 12345, which Dark Helmet observes is the kind of thing an idiot would have on his luggage.  The punchline, below, occurs when the air shield’s combination is revealed to President Skroob (Mel Brooks).

Besides being a chance to insert a gratuitous Spaceballs clip, what is the point?  Well, even before we’d ever heard of email, 12345 was a bad password.  Adding a 6 didn’t make it much better.

But even the brightest among us — celebrities — haven’t learned this lesson.  It seems like every couple of weeks, there is a story about how Paris Hilton’s phone, Sarah Palin’s email, or Lindsay Lohan’s MySpace, Blackberry, and Gmail accounts have been hacked.  All of these attacks were due to weak passwords, or easy-to-guess password reset questions (according to Wired, Tinkerbell – password reset answer, Wasilla High – password reset answer, and 1234 – password, respectively.)  Startlingly, trying the top 10 or 20 passwords (and their variants such as 123, 1234, 12345, etc.) could unlock as many as 20% of online accounts, according to John P. on One Man’s Blog.

So, maybe you’re not Lindsay Lohan, but you probably still have information you want to protect.  And gaining access to one account can probably lead to access to all of them.  So even if your Facebook isn’t important enough to warrant a strong password, what information in that account could be used to access your email and then your online bank account?

What makes a strong password?  When students set up their OSU email accounts, I direct them to OSU’s password policy, which requires passwords to be at least 8 characters and some combination of alphabetic, numeric, and punctuation characters.  Also, an OSU password cannot contain the same character three times or more in a row, fewer than four different characters, or easily guessed phrases and words.  You can even rate your new password at the top of the page to see if your password is acceptable.  1234 returns the message “Unacceptable – Your new password is too short.”  (Sorry, Lindsay Lohan.)

Still having trouble?  John P. has some good tips in his article.  One approach is to substitute numbers and punctuation in place of some letters in a word.  This can make your password exponentially tougher to crack.  For example, gobuckeyes could become g08uck3y3$.  But even a n00b knows we could do better.  Instead of starting with a word, consider taking the first letter of each word in a phrase or song to create an easy to remember, but seemingly random string.  For example, the first letter from each word in the first two lines of Carmen, Ohio would give us oclsopastamr.  Now substitute  numbers and symbols for a few of these letters and you have a pretty robust password: 0c1$0p4$t4mR.

(Incidentally, I wouldn’t recommend using that or any of the passwords you read here because any one of the tens of people who read this could then guess your password, but you can see how a strong password could be generated.)

Not feeling creative enough to make your own password?  Another approach is to use one of several password generators available online.  For example, grc.com has a page that generates strings of random characters each time the page is loaded.  Take as many as you need to create a strong password.  Another resource is onlinepasswordgenerator.com which generates 10 passwords at a time and can be configured to include numbers, punctuation, and capital letters, depending on your needs.

One final concern is having to remember passwords for so many different accounts.  Consider creating a simple algorithm that will alter the password slightly for each account.  For example, once you’ve committed 0c1$0p4$t4mR to memory, you could use 0c1$0p4$t4mRe for your email account, 0c1$0p4$t4mRb for your bank, and 0c1$0p4$t4mRfb for your Facebook account.  By adding the letters to the middle of the word and including the number of letters in the name of the account, each individual password would seem even more random, but all of them would be easy for you to remember.

I hope this post helps to make the internet a safer place for you.  If you recognized any of the passwords I’ve included here (especially the ones near the top), go update your accounts.  Or, change your dog’s name.


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