Archives For digital learning

Leaders from 25 Canadian universities, industry and the federal government, the Leadership Council for Digital Infrastructure, Canadian University Council of Chief Information Officers, Compute Canada, and CANARIE participated in a Universities Canada workshop in Vancouver on November 30 and December 1, 2015 to discuss the trends, opportunities and challenges in leveraging digital technologies for research, university operations, and teaching and learning.

A report titled Canadian Universities and our Digital Future A workshop by Universities Canada which summarized the results of the the workshop was release in May of 2016.

An excerpt from the report suggests that:

“Given these trends and the creative ways in which digital technologies can be used to support universities’ teaching and learning, research enterprise and administration, Canadian universities are presented with a range of opportunities and ways to innovate.

Universities will continue to incorporate digital technologies to attract more students, support their success, engage students in new ways, cater to their learning styles and needs, and better prepare them for their future careers. They will also use digital technologies to support a robust research environment involving online collaboration and access to increasingly large data sets and high-performance computing networks. And they will use technologies to offer a more secure, effective and efficient administrative environment, including improved student services.”

The 12-page report can be downloaded at

Learning something new is frustrating. It involves being dumb on the way to being smart. Once we get good enough (at our tools, at our work) it’s easier and easier to skip learning how to do the next thing, because, hey, those fifteen minutes are a hassle. (Godin, 2016)

I have been thinking about this Seth Godin quote ever since he posted The first fifteen minutes to his blog in January. For the most part I think he is accurate. All too often we are not willing to deal with the fifteen minutes of hassle to learn something new that can save us hundreds or even thousands of minutes down the road. I said for the most part because Godin’s fifteen minute rule can only be applied to the simplest of tasks, tools or processes. It also only applies if the task, tool, or process impacts you as an individual. Once the you bring in other people into the picture the time factor can increase significantly. Regardless of the complexity of the task or the added complexity of a collaborative effort the short time pain for long term gain are still worth the effort. Let me explain.

Students in the Lamar University Master of Digital Learning and Leading (DLL) study online and use digital books and resources. When they transition from one course to the next it has become common practice to share the reading list for the next course to give them the opportunity to stay up with the high volume of reading. We only use digital resources in the program and due to the nature of Digital Learning these resources are constantly being updated. Keeping and sharing static lists of these resources for each of the courses in the Master program has become a challenge. Updating a shared Google document doesn’t offer enough power and flexibility.

This is why we planning a move to Zotero reference management software. I have been using reference management software of one kind or another since the mid 1990’s and have been using the open source, cloud based Zotero since it was first developed in 2007. Therefore, I didn’t have to spend fifteen minutes to learn the software. However, I did have to spend much more then fifteen minutes because I had to explore and test:

  • The best way to set up Zotero Groups which included determining the correct group and user permissions and access model,
  • How to add new users and how to invite and share access to the system;
  • How to instruct the group administrators and new users how access and use the online system.

Each of these steps took approximately fifteen minutes so Godin’s model does work if you multiply it by numbers of significant steps in the process. If you factor in the initial learning process I would have spent sixty minutes to get to the point where I could demonstrate to my colleagues that using Zotero would be the best way for us to share DLL resources.

But are the sixty minutes worth the effort. Godin argues:

The problem with evaluating the first fifteen minutes of frustration is that we easily forget about the 5,000 minutes of leverage that frustration earns us if we stick it out.

Once again Godin’s model is based on individual effort. When you factor in the six or seven full time faculty and dozen or so adjunct faculty who will use the Zotero system and the hundreds of students who will not only use Zotero to access the course reading lists, but will also share it with their students the impact can be much more significant then the 5,000 minutes of leverage that Godin points to.

Perhaps even more important than the time savings and leverage is the impact this can have on our future leaders. Our program is call Digital Learning and Leading so it is appropriate that faculty in the program model the digital leadership required to take the fifteen or sixty or more minutes of frustration in order to leverage the power of digital learning which will have an exponential effect. This is what leaders do and what leaders must model.


Godin. (2016, January 16). Seth’s Blog: The first fifteen minutes [Blog]. Retrieved from

The Accenture Higher Education Will Never Be the Same! The Digital Demand on Campus and Beyond survey of 1,500 students in Australia, India, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States found:

Eighty-five percent of high school seniors, 81 percent of higher education students and 72 percent of higher education graduates say that how well a higher education institution embraces innovation is an important factor in deciding which institution to attend.

Because Universities, Colleges, and Polytechnics still control the parchment (degrees, diplomas and certification) we haven’t seen the same sort of external disruptive forces taking students away. What we are beginning to see is a shift in where students choose to attend within higher education. Institutions that have gone digital and provide fully online, well designed blended programs, or other innovative and flexible approaches to learning are drawing students who are looking for flexibility and relevance in their learning experience. The Accenture survey revealed that just over 50% of students are still considering a traditional education, so if your institutions is part of the Ivy League or other highly regarded brand then you may still have a strong draw. If you are offering the same traditional courses as your competition across town or across the state or province then you may be in trouble.

The report authors suggest that to remain competitive higher education must engage, satisfy and sustain relationships with always-on students by doing the following:

  • Delivering on-demand learning. As digital natives, students expect on-demand, self-led learning with access to content and instruction online at any time. Institutions must enable a type of learning via mobile and social tools that involve video and content curation that make learning highly engaging.
  • Working with new teaching partners. Education innovation such as on-demand learning models requires different educational delivery systems. No higher education institution will have access to a variety of models without building partnerships and strengthening its ecosystem by collaborating with other universities, the private sector and government.
  • Cultivating lifelong learning. By using digital tools, higher education institutions can extend and strengthen alumni relationships through online and on-demand learning.

This is a very positive opportunity for higher education. Institutions that are proactive and use digital technologies to enhance learning are going to find that to do this well they must focus the learners needs and create significant learning environment rather then just deliver content.

Read the full report – Higher Education Will Never Be the Same! The Digital Demand on Campus and Beyond

eBooks vs Books

November 27, 2012 — Leave a comment

“The mere formulation of a problem is far more often essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle requires creative imagination and marks real advances in science.” Albert Einstein

We would be wise to heed Einstein’s advise as we look at this debate but we should also be aware of the agendas and bias that are present in the way an argument is presented. For example comparing tablets to textbooks is not a fair comparison for tablets or textbooks because the two are essentially different. A tablet is a computing device that can be used as an ereader as well as many other things and a textbook is simply a compilation of pre-digested information. The Tablets Vs. Textbooks website is a classic of example of how we can get mired in senseless debates of comparing apples to to oranges. The site also demonstrates that when the comparisons are NOT well defined and remotely equivalent the debate can actually limit well informed decisions and progress. Several years from now we will look back at the pros and cons listed on this site and many other similar sites and add the following statements to the growing list of ill informed statements that about other technological changes. It won’t be too many years until we add the following:

Tablets enable students to cut corners or cheat on schoolwork.
Tablets increase the number of excuses available for students not doing their schoolwork.
Tablets have too many distractions for classroom use.

to this growing list of foolish predictions.

“Ballpoint pens will be the ruin of education in our country. Students use these devices and then throw them away. The American values of thrift and frugality are being discarded. Businesses and banks will never allow such expensive luxuries.” From Federal Teachers, 1950

“Computers give students an unfair advantage. Therefore, students who used computers to analyze data or create displays will be eliminated from the science fair.” From a science fair judge in Apple Classroom of Tomorrow chronicles, 1988

Putting the above illformed debate aside we can now deal with a personal observation regarding the power of ebooks and the limitation of traditional print books that will have an impact on learning–or at least have an impact on my learning. This past week my son suggested that I would be interested reading the book Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide by Barbara Coloroso that he was reading in his Social Studies class. I often read what my boys read and was looking forward to the discussions this book could start so after learning that I could not get copy of this book in a digital format I agreed to have my son to pick up a paperback copy from his school library. A few pages into the book made me realize that this was not just a light read and that I was going to have to start making notes if I wanted to be able to refer back to the powerful points the author was making. Unfortunately the book was in print I had to repeatedly stop and transcribe sections of the text. I found having to do this not only frustrating it interfered with my flow of reading and interfered with my learning process.

Some may question how transcribing text interferes with learning and may even argue that the act of writing out the test is actually helpful for learning. Since getting my first iPad back in May of 2010, I have moved over to ebooks and found that the ability to highlight and make notes directly on the book I was reading was an extremely important aspect of using ebooks. Highlighting and making short notes as I read directly on the book enabled me to enter into a state of flow that I have not experienced with traditional text based books. In his book Flow, Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi describes flow as:

“being completely involved in an activity for its own sake…your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

I was not aware that I could even enter into this state of flow while reading until I started using ebooks. I am not only able to read much more efficiently but am able to emerse myself much further into the material. While I am not able to quantitatively demonstrate that I am learning more effectively with ebooks I believe that I am and we do know from the research that this type of positive reinforcement does contribute to improved learning. This is also significant when one considers that I have read over 75 books in a digital format on Kindle, Kobo, iBooks or several other ereaders I have used in the past couple of years. When you add the hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of articles that I have read in a digital format on my iPad the impact of digital text on my learning has been profound.

About the only advantage traditional books have over ebooks is that they don’t require recharging. However they do require a decent light source which isn’t required with an ebook so even this perceived advantage can be questioned. As I get older and require even stronger reading glasses the advantages of ebooks over traditional print are even more profond when you consider how easy it is to change the size and format of the text.

Like most perpetual readers I have a several stacks of books that I have purchased and am planning to read. Unfortunately, these stacks of print based books are not declining because I prefer to read digital text as opposed to print. I have re-purchased several of these books in a digital format so that I could read them more efficiently and I sense that if I am to make any progress on that stack will have to re-purchase electronic versions.

I have read thousands of books, most being traditional print and am looking forward to reading thousands more and unless I have not other option those future books will be ebooks. I challenge anyone to come up with any reason why a print based book is better than electronic text. Despite reading thousands of books and even have a Masters in Library Science I really couldn’t care less about books. I actually don’t like them. What I do like is ideas and insights that they contain and how they help me to learn.

It shouldn’t be about the books is should be about the learning.

Prior to the release of the iPad a mere twenty five months ago the claim that paper textbooks being on borrowed time would have been laughed at by many in academia. Considering the explosive growth of the iPad, Android and Kindle readers over the past two years this claim is not only reasonable it is achievable. Perhaps even more important is the realization that we are moving well beyond just digital text and are looking at

digital content that’s not necessarily restricted to pages.

These changes are happening right now. Brian Kibby, president of McGraw-Hill Higher Education states:

I believe in less than 36 months, the idea of having a print product will be far from the norm on most college campuses across the country.

The next few years are going to be very exciting and the closer we get to fully utilizing digital resources to enhance learning the better off we all are.

Read the full article…