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Yesterday proved to be insightful when talking with my students. I am constantly stumbling over cultural references when trying to reach them. I grew up in the 70s. They grew up in the 2000s. I realized just how big of a gap this is, when I asked them if they had heard of the Internet phenomenon, PostSecret.

Not one student had heard of it. I thought that PostSecret was pretty common knowledge, especially among Internet-savvy youth. I thought wrongly. So it is apparent to me that the tide has shifted from one where my students and I explore the Internet together sharing a wonder of discovery, to one where I can serve as a knowing guide on a well-travelled path. Of course, I will always be able to learn new things from them, but even while to me it is still quite new, I really, truly know much more about the Internet and it’s short heritage than they do.

The reason I mentioned PostSecret is that I was hoping for establishing a common reference point that speaks to the vulnerability and hurts that we all have. I am trying to build empathy for others.

Every single person has at least one secret that would break your heart. If we could just remember this, I think there would be a lot more compassion and tolerance in the world. – Frank Warren

I remember hearing the PostSecret founder state this truth, and it has always stuck with me. Probably no one has heard more confessions than Frank Warren, except perhaps the Curé of Ars, so he certainly has a firm understanding of the human condition.


Paper Citations

I have been working at Kansas State University for a dozen years now. Before that, I taught at Cloud County Community College. The main difference between the two institutions is the scholarship expectation for faculty members. At both institutions, effective classroom instruction is expected, as is service to community and to the institution. But when I changed jobs, the scholarship expectation was something new.

I rather like the scholarship requirement. It encourages us to stay current in our field, rather than stagnate. In our department, most of us have assignments of 80% teaching, 10% scholarship, and 10% service as the percentages of how we are supposed to spend our time. We still place a high priority on instruction, but the other two are requirements as well.

My own scholarship is in scholarship of teaching. The papers I have written and presented are all related to courses I teach in computer technology.

One thing that I haven’t really experienced though, is noticing my papers being cited by other authors. That all changed recently, when I was doing a search for my American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) papers. I found three papers with my name in them that I didn’t write. In other words, I’m a cited author. I suppose that for more preeminent scholars, this is to be expected. But for me, it felt really cool to see my work cited in someone else’s reference list.

Below are the papers that cited my work:





2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Expositionscreen-shot-2016-10-25-at-6-52-08-am




What The Amish Can Teach You About DS106

amish buggies

Amish DS106

The Daily Create for today was pretty interesting. Given a prompt from an idea generator website, we were supposed to write a blog post. A couple of people shared titles that had to do with the Amish and DS106. These two things, a religious group that eschews technology and a digital storytelling course that is centered on technology, seem to be as far removed from one another as possible.

Now I am far from an expert on the Amish, but I have encountered a few from time to time here in Kansas and have read a bit about their culture. So I’d like to take a stab at this one.

First of all, as I understand it, much of the Amish resistance to the adoption of new technologies has more to do with humility than it does with hatred for the new and high-tech. A few years ago, we visited the town of Yoder, KS, where a large community of Amish people live. We noticed that there were occasional telephone booths located along the roads in the countryside. A guide explained that multiple families share the telephone, and it is placed on a property line so no one can claim ownership. According to our guide, it is the ownership of these various things that can lead to the sin of pride .

This explanation cleared up another question I had long wondered about. Why could Amish people ride in automobiles, but would not own one? Well, now it made sense. According to the explanation we received, it has to do with pride and ownership, not a hatred of technology per se.

So what can the Amish teach us about DS106? Firstly, I would suggest that they have priorities established and they keep them. Participating in DS106 is highly demanding. To be successful, you have to have priorities in order, or you will quickly be overwhelmed. And it goes without saying that the Amish do not take the easy road. They are hard-working people. DS106ers should absolutely follow the Amish ethic of hard work.

Another thing about the Amish is they are frugal and resourceful. So are those in DS106. Both groups don’t throw things away. They remix, recycle, and reuse things. They look for whatever tools are available to get the job done. The Amish and DS106ers don’t need the latest, greatest tools to get the job done. They don’t upgrade for upgrading’s sake.

Finally, the Amish help one another. If a neighbor puts up a barn, the whole community is there. This attitude is central to DS106. We comment, we compliment, we support one another in our efforts to learn. I think the Amish have a lot to teach us about DS106.

Author’s Note: After writing this, I searched the Internet for “Amish Hacker” and found this must-read piece by Kevin Kelly on Amish Hackers. Check it out, it is spot on right.




Star Trek 50th Anniversary Celebration

Here is how I celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek.

Experts Talk Storytelling

Storytelling is hard. I’ve been studying it for some time, and I’m always learning. One book that I’ve enjoyed reading is Notes to Screenwriters by Peterson & Nicolosi.

Below are some of the best videos I’ve seen on the art of storytelling. All of these resources, the book and the videos have one idea in common – be respectful of the intelligence of the audience.  Give the reader/viewer something for the mind to work on without explicitly stating it. In other words show, don’t tell. This is easier said than done.

Anyway, here are the videos:

George Saunders on Storytelling (Coarse language alert)

Ken Burns on Storytelling

Ken Burns: On Story from Redglass Pictures on Vimeo.

Ira Glass on Storytelling

Kurt Vonnegut on Storytelling

Clyde 150th Celebration

KSU Digital Media Students

In our first week of class, the KSU Digital Media team (KSUDigMe for short) recorded a history of Clyde, Kansas to help celebrate the sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary of its founding. This coming Labor Day weekend, several thousand people from all over will attend the annual Clyde Watermelon Festival and hear this recording.

We spent over an hour taking turns reading the various nuggets of Clyde’s history. Then I spent the weekend editing the recordings down into a half hour recording using Adobe Audition. I also added some instrumental background music I found online. What a great way to start a semester!

Here is the track that is currently playing in downtown Clyde:

We received the following message from the Clyde 150th celebration planning committee:

Thank you so much to all of you involved in our recording of business histories for Clyde’s 150th Birthday!  We are seeing people randomly sitting on our city benches just listening to your recording!  They are enjoying it very much.  We also invite any of you who would like to join us for our celebration
to come to Clyde, Kansas this week and weekend!  It would be wonderful to meet you in person, but if we don’t, you have touched our community with your voices!

Thanks again.

Brenda Koch and the 150th Planning Committee


C-64 8 Bit Graphics

I was perusing through past “Daily Create” exercises that I missed this summer, and one that caught my eye was titled C64 Yourself. I remember those early days of personal computers well, when if you could see a picture of any kind, you were doing well. The 64yourself website is a really fun simulation of what it was like to use a Commodore 64. computer.

I uploaded a photo of my daughter Emily playing softball. I reckoned that for an 8-bit photo to work well, it shouldn’t have a lot of fine detail, and should depict a recognizable scene. That’s why I thought softball might be a good candidate. I sent her the following tweet:

When we talked about it this morning before school, she said it was ok, but she likes pictures that look more realistic. Like actual copies of reality. To me, this has a more stylized, artistic feel to it. Actual copies of reality are everywhere. What is more, this is an actual copy of the reality that was back in the 1980’s. Guess I need to send her the hi-rez version now. She wanted that one.

The Other Side of the MOOC Fence

The Other Side of the MOOC Fence

An opinion essay on the utility of MOOCs from the perspective of a small campus professor.

By Tim Bower, Kansas State University | Polytechnic Campus

In the last three years, I have participated as a student in several MOOCs (massive online open courses). I finished some and found that I didn’t have the time for some – about the same as reading a book. In fact, MOOCs are a lot like a textbook to me. They are a resource that can facilitate learning. I advocate that MOOCs can and should play a significant role in higher education pedagogy; but that for long term sustainability of MOOCs, all higher education stakeholders need to regard the role of MOOCs the same as the traditional role of textbooks. MOOCs can be a positive benefit to the faculty and institutions that teach them, to publishers that facilitate their distribution, to both degree seeking and life-long learner students, and even to smaller campus institutions and their faculty.

There is broad agreement within academia that, like textbooks, MOOCs are a resource. However, unlike textbooks, opinions are split about other things that MOOCs are or are not.
Are they :

  • A threat to the traditional classroom and degree granting collegiate institutions?
  • A get-rich-quick scheme for large universities, or a venue for faculty to give away the university’s valuable produce for free?
  • A venue for recruiting students or establishing credibility and notoriety?
  • An opportunity for faculty and institutions to demonstrate their benevolence and endorsement of free and open sharing of creative works?

All of the above have elements of truth. However, as is the case for textbooks, the correct answer to all of these identity questions about MOOCs is and should be – no. Trying to attribute more to the identity of MOOCs than that of a learning resource is not in anyone’s best interest.

If you are not familiar with MOOCs, let me explain what I am talking about. MOOCs offer a low cost, or free, online peek into the classrooms of successful faculty at prestigious schools teaching their most popular courses. The instructional content is usually of exceptional quality. The course material is often the same, although sometimes a subset, of the material taught in undergraduate and graduate level courses at the host institution. The faculty teaching these course are experts in the subject being taught. They are usually assisted by a team of graduate students and support staff that assist with responding to questions in online forums, creation and automated grading of assignments, developing the lecture slides, and video recording and editing. Some MOOCs are available to the general public as a set of lecture videos and may be viewed at any time and in any order for the benefit of the viewer as they see fit. Other MOOCs are structured more like a college course with a schedule of deadlines for completing homework assignments and exams. The courses with assignments and exams may also offer non-credit certificates of completion for a small fee. Paying the fee for a certificate can serve as motivation for the student to complete the course and offers proof of their accomplishment.

Like authoring a textbook, teaching a MOOC is not for all faculty. The MOOC instructor should have extensive experience in the course material and the luxury of help from graduate students and a support staff. It is acceptable that most faculty in the course of their teaching use textbooks authored by others. It is less acceptable to use lectures presented by someone else. While authoring a book is optional, lecturing is obligatory for all faculty.

There is much talk in academics about the so-called flipped classroom, where students are expected to view lecture videos outside of class while the class sessions are intended to be conducted more as a recitation or laboratory. The video lectures for a flipped class are usually recorded by the instructor who is also teaching the recitations. What if MOOC lectures were used in a flipped classroom setting? Would the instructor still be teaching or would they be shirking their responsibility? In such a setting, the instructor would still be responsible for all course content. They would have the option to select what lectures and assignments from one or more MOOCs to incorporate into their class. In the recitations, the instructor would assign homework, give exams, and lecture to clarify the content, provide remedial instruction, or extend the material beyond that covered in the MOOC. In this scenario, students are assured that what they are learning is accurate, current, and in-line with what students at other institutions are learning. I feel that such a model can level the playing field between small and large campuses. It can also be a stimulus to raise, or maintain, the level of academic rigor on small campuses.

Does this threaten or diminish the value of faculty on small campuses? I think that it does not. I think it could enable faculty to be more productive. Speaking for myself, I feel that I’m a very competent teacher. Yet, I freely admit that I do not have the same level of specialized knowledge as the instructors of the MOOCs that I have taken. That is not being self-effacing or diminutive. I have a much higher and broader teaching load than they do. Pretty much every aspect of my job as a professor on a small campus is different than that of the faculty that teach MOOCs.

Textbook publishers eagerly solicit faculty to select the books they peddle for adoption in their courses. Perhaps, within the ever-changing world of higher eduction, it is time for the publishers of MOOCs, such as Coursera, Udacity, and others, to peddle affordable, licensed use of MOOC lectures.

More importantly, it is time for all faculty, students, and administrators to define MOOCs for what they are – a resource to facilitate learning, and nothing more. It is well accepted that higher education in the future will look very different than it did in the past. Perhaps MOOCs will play a key role in the future of higher education.

The Best Way To Teach

A friend recently shared this video of a candidate for state representative in my home state of Kansas discussing Common Core:

Ms Levings rhetorically asks, “What’s the best way to teach kids…?” That is the fallacious assumption behind academic initiatives that attempt to standardize instruction. People are unique, and different instructional approaches will work differently for different people. Let’s be real. What we are really after here is trying to find the most cost effective approach that will work for the most students. While it may not work for your kid or my kid, in theory it should work for most kids.

Thinking there is a “best way” of doing education doesn’t hold up in a messy, real world of individual ideosynchrasies. What if we thought this way about dining? Instead of appreciating Chinese or Mexican cuisine, we would blend it all together in an attempt implement the very best methods of cooking, but we would wind up eating some very nasty smoothies every day.

I’m still waiting for an initiative that recognizes that everyone involved in education, students and teachers alike, is an individual. Where is the initiative that encourages kids to discover their life’s purpose? Where is the program that encourages teachers to teach from their strengths and to tap into their individual creativity so their students will benefit from the very best possible teaching? Because of the assumption that there is a ‘best way’ to teach, we have developed a hostile culture that has zero respect for individual professional educators. Year after year, our young people are subjected to mind-numbing testing in the name of “holding teachers accountable” to the standards that may or may not be relevant.

Standards in themselves are not a bad thing to have. But the real fallout from Common Core has been to suck the joy out of childhood. Kids are fearful and ashamed when they must take tests that make no sense to them. It is the adults who write the awful tests and the adults who subject kids to them who should be ashamed.

Yes, teachers should be accountable. Primarily they should be accountable to the young people whose lives they influence, and to the parents and communities they serve. Let the local school leadership do its job in determining whether or not teachers are doing their job.

I also think that politicians who implement these educational initiatives be held accountable. How many of the many new programs designed to improve education have been successfully implemented over the years? What are the real, measurable results? No one ever seems to hold politicians accountable for their failed policies. Instead, we incessantly move on to the next big thing.