Prime your Mind!

Part 2 – Prime your Mind: Actively work and think on your problem
Brain, mind, & psychology by ElisaRiva

My PoP (problem of practice) is to increase student retention in online courses.

  • Questions you are struggling with:
    • How do I narrow my focus? There are so many variables that affect my PoP.
    • How do different learning styles play into this?
    • What can I do for the students who are not prepared?
    • How do I find a possible solution when “life” gets in the way? Family responsibilities, illness, etc.
    • How will I be able to track progress?
    • Did I ask the right questions in the student survey I created?
    • Should the focus have been more on the students rather than the online environment and online classroom?
    • How important are personal connections in an online environment?
  • Issues or variables that present a problem for you:
    • Age groups, different ethnic groups, learning styles, family responsibilities, job(s), course load, student motivation, support systems, time management skills, available resources (e.g., computer, Internet connection, textbooks), finances.
    • Narrowing my focus.
    • I originally thought my teaching style, the online environment, the arrangement of materials in the online classroom were the problem but research is pointing to the different obstacles in a student’s life.
  • Thoughts you are kicking around in your head on your problem:
    • My PoP has too many uncontrollable variables.
    • My colleague sent me this article: “Why aren’t there more Michigan community college graduates?”
      • The above article ( states: “Realistically, what keeps people from completion is not just on-campus issues,” said Mark Yancy Jr., the Applebaum Family Campus Coach at Henry Ford College. “There’s so much more going on in life that can cause problems.”
    • I feel I’m on the right track with my PoP, I just have to find a way to effectively execute my ideas .
    • Ask others for their opinion.
    • Am I the only teacher that experiences higher drop rates in the first week of class and the middle of class?
  • Possibilities, ideas, or solutions that have entered your mind:
    • Creating short videos that focus on sticky areas within the weekly chapter readings.
    • Enabling the chat option in my online classroom so students can meet online and chat with each other.
    • Recommend that students that they can attend a class session on campus for the same course.
    • Promoting tutoring services.
    • On/off campus study groups arranged and conducted by the students
    • Holding an online meet and greet – get to know the students and they can get to know me.
    • Offering online office hours in addition to the on campus office hours
    • Holding an optional online meeting session during the first week of class and half way through the course to connect with students.
    • Creating group activities to promote collaboration and build a support system.
    • Host a “webinar” type of session where I go over a topic and students can participate by asking questions or just watching – record the sessions so students that can’t attend can watch at convenient time based on their schedule.
    • Advise students through email, office hours, etc. about the web program and its courses.
    • Advertising and providing information within the online classroom and/or via email highlighting the student services on campus: learning centers, career services, counseling & academic advising, disability/special services, Financial Aid, Reading & Writing Studios, Veteran and military services, health and benefits assistance, child care resources, and food assistance through the food pantry.

Idea Notes

  • Videos:
    • Go through each chapter in the textbook and pick out 1-2 “sticky” areas and create short videos where I walk through a process or technique to help students better understand a particular technique – include actual coding.
    • Ask students to provide 1-2 areas in the chapter reading that they would like more clarification on. I will choose the 1-2 most popular areas based on student input and create a short video.
    • Create generic videos that I can use throughout all of my online courses demonstrating how to submit completed work, accessing the web server, and interacting with the web server, which are common practices and requirements across all the courses in the program.
  • Student Support:
    • Assemble a document that contains all the support services offered at the college that can be distributed the students: (learning centers, career services, counseling & academic advising, disability/special services, Financial Aid, Reading & Writing Studios, Veteran and military services, health and benefits assistance, child care resources, and food assistance through the food pantry).
      • The document will include the name of the service, location (if applicable), and a contact name, phone number, and email.
      • The document will be emailed out to the entire class as well posted within the online classroom.
    • Offer online office hours for students who cannot make it to on campus office hours.
      • This will be offered during a set time each week – all students welcome from multiple sections.
      • Offer Individual online assistance (by appointment) for any personal issues and/or program advising.
    • Advertise workshops at campus that promote student success.
      • Post announcements in the online classroom and send the information out to the class via email.
    • Share job/internship information within the virtual classroom and via email.
    • Encourage on/off campus study groups.
      • These are set up and managed entirely by students.
      • Offer meeting suggestions such as the campus Learning Centers or the Student Centers (at both campuses).
        • For meeting online, I can enable the chat feature in the online classroom so students can interact synchronously.
  • Making a Personal Connection:
    • Conducting “optional” online meeting sessions during the first week of class and half way through the course to connect with students.
    • Invite students to follow and connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn.
    • Holding an online meet and greet – get to know the students and they can get to know me.

Take a break…let it incubate.


ElisaRiva. (2017, February). [Brain, Mind, Psychology] [Image]. Retrieved from


PoP Define Mode: Part 2

Problem Statement

As an online web programming teacher, my PoP (problem of practice) focus will be on examining student retention in online courses and to identify the various obstacles that may inhibit success. I am using the Introduction to Web Programming online course that I teach as the focal point and the students within that course, as my target audience.

This semester I am teaching three sections of the introduction course with a total of approximately 63 students. The student demographics include ages ranging from high school juniors to adults in their fifties/sixties, a variety of different ethnic groups, and the male students greatly out number the female students in all three sections (19 females to 44 males respectively) – this is very common in the IT related courses at the college and the industry itself. The student population includes many of the following variables, usually with multiple variables applied to a single student: taking a full-time or part-time course load, working full-time or part-time, holding one or multiple jobs, family responsibilities (children), caretaker for parents, grandparents or other family member(s), Federal Aid recipients, various income levels, varying GPA scores (we are an open enrollment college), commuter college (no on campus housing), various ethnic backgrounds, language barriers and special needs requirements.

The number of possible variables that can play a role in student retention in online courses makes it difficult to pinpoint an exact single cause as to why some students are successful and some students are not successful in an online environment. I believe that being adequately prepared, possessing strong time management and organizational skills, goal setting and having a strong support system both at home and at the college play an important role in success. The direction I want to pursue with my PoP is to examine the different obstacles students are facing in online courses and focusing on those obstacles that I as a teacher, can assist with overcoming. Areas that I want to examine are: providing online support with course content (e.g., how-to videos, help discussion forums, etc.), providing online office hours (examine online video conferencing tools), develop an online support community in each course where students can share with each other (discussion forums), encourage study groups on campus, and look into possible course offerings and/or workshops that may provide students with information on study skills and time management techniques. My goal is help students feel prepared for their online course and to make the online classroom environment portray a feeling of community and support so that everyone can be successful and succeed in achieving their goals.

PoP Define Mode: Part 1

Define Mode Activity

Part A: 5 Whys? Root-Cause Analysis

  • Why 1? Retention is lower in online courses because students are not prepared to take an online course.
  • Why 2? Students are not prepared to take an online course because they lack the necessary resources such as a computer, textbook, or a reliable Internet connection.
  • Why 3? Students lack the necessary resources because they may be living on a budget or fixed income and can’t afford the resources.
  • Why 4? Students may be living on a budget or fixed income and can’t afford the resources because they may have come from a low income family environment, lost their job, waiting on financial aid money, or may have fallen on hard times due to family or personal emergencies and responsibilities or illness.
  • Why 5? Students may have come from a low income family environment, lost their job, waiting on financial aid money, or may have fallen on hard times due to family or personal emergencies and responsibilities or illness because the circumstances may have been inherited, the result of a lengthy government process (financial aid), or circumstances beyond on their control.

Part B: Why-How Ladder

View the Why-How Ladder online here.

Why-How Ladder: To prepare students to be successful in an online course.

Part C: POV (Point of View) Want Ad

Web programming teacher seeks goal-oriented, prepared, and busy students interested in successfully completing and earning a good grade in an 8-week online college course!

  • Willingness to commit to an approximately 18 hour weekly time investment and read, study, and learn the course material.
  • MUST have access to a reliable computer and Internet connection. This may include spending time at a library or using Starbucks or Panera Bread’s free Wi-Fi.
  • MUST be able to purchase the course textbook and engage with the material. This may include highlighting, adding notes to pages, dog-earing pages, or applying sticky notes to pages to mark important content. Colorful highlighting, colorful sticky notes, and creative note taking are recommended.
  • MUST have a hectic schedule that includes one or more of the following: a full-time job, multiple jobs, family responsibilities, a full-time course load at a college.
  • MUST be prepared to learn a full semester of content in half the amount of time. This includes working on assignments during work, during other courses, at odd times during the day or night, and on vacation.
  • Self-motivated, goal-oriented individuals with good time management skills and a desire for success and accomplishment in advancing their education or learning a new skill, is recommended.

Fun with Words & Problems

This week we were tasked with inventing a Sniglet out of something that we have noticed or encountered in our everyday lives. A Sniglet is essentially a word that doesn’t have a dictionary meaning.

Scrabble Letters by BruceEmmerling

A Few Sniglets:

  • Cursorpounce (kur ‘sore pounce)  – The erratic pouncing movement of the mouse cursor when typing on a computer keyboard. This behavior may occur if your laptop has a very sensitive touchpad.
  • Day 7 Techno Crash (dāy sev in tek nō krash) – A computer or Internet connection that crashes every Sunday night.
  • Flourogunk (floor ō ‘gunk) – The residual toothpaste around the cap of the toothpaste tube.
  • Smillow (smil ‘low) – A smashed pillow that is losing its stuffing.

The Problem, Reframed Problem, and Solution

The next task assigned for this week was to state a problem, reframe the problem, and then provide a solution.

For the web programming courses that I teach, the students use and interact with a web server to develop, test, and then submit their completed work each week. Interacting with a web server is an outcome of the web programming program and a necessary skill for students working in the field. Since this is an integral part of each course as a way for students to develop, test, and submit assignments, having a reliable web hosting environment (e.g., 100% uptime guarantee, routine backups, and monitoring) and customer support (24/7/365) is crucial. Last year, the web server that was used for the courses at the college, failed. The server was no longer operational for two weeks prior to the end of the semester and we ended the semester without a web hosting environment. Immediately, the blame traveled to the IT staff and their inability to efficiently manage the web server and provide the necessary customer support to investigate and respond to the issue quickly.

Following the semester’s end, the IT staff had an opportunity to research the reason(s) why the web server may have failed. They looked into possible networking issues and then examined software and hardware issues. The research indicated that it was a complete hardware failure caused by very old outdated equipment. Further research indicated that there were actually two hardware failures during the past two years, which ultimately lead up to the web server becoming nonfunctional. The server was being “patched” with old refurbished components in order to keep an outdated piece of hardware functioning without spending a lot of money.

So the real issues behind the web server failure, was not the inability to manage the server (software installations, routine backups, etc. – that was all in place) but rather money was not being allocated to upgrade the server in order to keep it operational and up-to-date and the IT support staff did not have the manpower or resources to investigate the issue(s) in a timely manner.

The solution to the problem was to purchase web hosting services from an outside vendor that provides 24/7/365 support, a 100% uptime guarantee, a safe and secure hosting environment, and the ability to monitor and manage hardware and software system failures immediately and then respond accordingly . The fee for these services is minimal compared to the high cost of maintaining a dedicated IT staff at the college and the cost of maintaining up-to-date web server software and hardware and monitoring services for a computer that is housed on campus. Since this solution was put into place, everything has been running smoothly and the faculty, students, and administration are very pleased. The original problem seem to point to lack of involvement and disinterest where in fact the real issue was due to limited manpower, resources, and outdated equipment.


BruceEmmerling. (2014, January). [Scrabble Gameboar] [Image]. Retrieved from

Student Retention – Empathy Mode

Students: photo by StartupStockPhotosThe topic of student retention (student success) often comes up in conversation or as a topic of discussion during the online advisory committee meetings or faculty meetings that I attend, with an emphasis being on online courses. Why is this? Why does the conversation also circle back to online courses? Sure, student retention is important in traditional on campus courses as well, but in a non-traditional type of classroom environment with different classroom dynamics, may bring about a different set of obstacles for students to overcome which may contribute to lower retention in online courses. The focus will be on exploring ways to improve student retention in online courses and identifying the various obstacles that may inhibit success. I have chosen the online Introduction to Web Programming online course that I teach as the focal point.

In beginning to examine the issue of student retention, I engaged in the following empathetic techniques listed below in order to better understand my target audience – the students.

  • Experience prototyping
  • Character profiling
  • Student Survey
  • Research
    • Institutional Research and Planning (*MCC)
    • Discussion with the director of the Center for Teaching and Learning (*MCC)

Experience Prototyping

I registered for the UX501x Introduction to User Experience course from the University of Michigan through edX. I wanted to experience a different online course environment where I was not familiar with its layout. I wanted to try the “experience prototyping” empathy technique since it sparked my interest during this week’s reading. My focus (no pun intended) was on how a student with a low vision disability may interact with an online course and access its materials. I removed my reading glasses, which made things very blurry and difficult to see, and proceeded to navigate through the course (listed above) and its materials.

Some Observations:

  • It took me a great deal more time to move around the course and through the materials simply because I had to keep zooming in on different areas within the online classroom within the web browser (thankfully web browsers have built in zoom in/out options).
  • When I had to interact with my keyboard (zooming in/out) it took me a little more time to complete things. I can type without looking at the keyboard but when I have to input numbers and use special characters, I tend to look at the keyboard to be sure my fingers are on the correct keys.
  • I was able to view the course videos in full screen so I could easily see them without my glasses. I did notice that when viewing the video in full screen mode it fills your browser window (which it’s intended to do) but you have to use the browser’s back button to return to the course content – not easy to see without my glasses.
  • The discussion forums in the classroom were easy to use and familiar. Using the browser zoom in feature allowed me to easily participate and read other’s responses.
  • The handouts in the course were made available for download in PDF format which you can then use the magnifying feature in Adobe Reader to more easily view the content.

Character Profiling

I was able to receive some basic demographic information from the Institutional Research and Planning department under the staff section of the *MCC website. Based on the demographics and my personal interaction with my students, I created three different character profiles using Popplet: Online Student 1, 2, and 3. I included the following focal points in the character profiling from which I built upon:

  • Basics (employment status, age, gender, race, marital status, children, credit hours, major area of study, etc.).
  • The Journey (education costs, financial aid, GPA, education background, etc.)
  • Identification Factors (external conflicts, etc.)
  • Personality Traits (student/teacher interaction, quality of work, etc.)

If interested, click on each image to review the character profile.

Student Survey

In order to get direct feedback from the students currently taking my online course, I created a 10-question survey using SurveyMonkey and emailed the survey link to my students. In a short email, I explained to the students the purpose of the survey and thanked them for their participation. I asked questions of them in order to gain some insight on their familiarity with taking online courses, their success on setting up a connection to the web server (a course requirement and integral part of the course), what they felt was the most difficult activity the first week of class, and the usefulness of the lectures I provide within the course. I also wanted feedback regarding some of the ideas that I’m considering incorporating into the course: how-to videos, an online “meet and greet”, an on campus demonstration of setting up a web server connection, and a new way of conducting online discussions.

The online survey can be found here.


I wanted to include information and demographics directly from the college so I began my research by contacting the Director of the CTL (Center for Teaching and Learning). I was directed to a list of documents from the Research and Planning department located on the *MCC website that included both college and student statistics along with basic student demographics and I also received some spreadsheet data via email as a starting point for discussion. In addition, I was provided with a contact at the college that works within the Research and Planning department that may be able to provide me with specific reports and data pertaining to the online courses that I teach – particularly the course associated with my problem of practice. I will be contacting the department to see what can be provided to me. In addition, I plan to review online case studies and articles pertaining to student retention in online courses (to be included in my final report).

Learning Outcomes (to date)

There are a few things that really stood out to me while engaging in the process of becoming empathetic and learning more about my target audience.

  • I recognized the importance of organization, navigation, and easily accessible content within an online classroom. This became very apparent to me during the experiencing prototyping session.
  • As I was reviewing the college/student demographics and creating the character profiles, I started to become one with each student character profile that I created. I began to see possible obstacles during their educational journey, their aspirations, and background information that may affect their success. I got “lost” in the experience.
  • Reviewing the survey responses to date, there were things that really surprised me and things that did not. A lot of responses alluded to the convenience of online courses and how they work well with their work/personal schedules. I had thought students were having difficulties with setting up a web server connection the first week of class but the survey responses suggest otherwise. I was also under the impression that the additional lecture material wasn’t being viewed, and again the responses indicate differently.
  • This the first time since I have been employed full-time at the college (7+ years), that I actually visited and reviewed the documents from the Institutional Research and Planning department. Actually, I never knew the documents even existed on the website.
  • I also had a very informative conversation with the CTL Director and gained valuable insight. One of the suggestions that was made was to decide on how to define “retention” as it relates to student success because it can be defined differently.

The empathy mode of the design thinking process is very powerful and an ideal place to begin my exploration into ways to improve student retention in online courses and identifying the various obstacles that may inhibit success.

*Macomb Community College –


StartupStockPhotos. (2015, January). [Computer/Communication] [Image]. Retrieved from

A Tale from Different Perspectives

Basketball on the court by PDPics

Note: Fictitious names were used in the following stories in order maintain anonymity.

A Teacher’s Perspective

As I stood there in the gym waiting to videotape the event, tears welled up in my eyes with happiness and pride as Albert (suited up in uniform) ran onto the basketball court with the rest of the team  when his name was announced at the last home boy’s basketball game of the season. The team gave him “high-fives” and welcomed him like he had played with them the entire season. This game was very special for many reasons. Prior to this last game, I had talked with one of Albert’s LINKS (who is on the 8th grade boys’ basketball team) that works with Albert during his Physical Education class, his paraprofessional, and my principal to arrange for Albert to shoot free throws during the last home game of the boy’s basketball season. We also talked to the referee prior to the game and asked him to call a foul on the other team so that Albert would have the opportunity to come into the game and shoot a free throw. The time came, I watched Albert walk up to the free throw line and take his first, second, third, and fourth shots, and on the fifth shot you heard the swish of the net as the ball passed through – he made it! The crowd cheered and stood to their feet! I watched with so much emotion and beamed with pride as the boy’s basketball team, many of which are my students, surrounded him and presented him with the game ball signed by each player. I have had many amazing moments in my teaching career but this one was special. I will remember it as the evening that my student Albert, who has autism, felt like part of a team doing what he loves to do – shoot free throws.

A Student’s Perspective

I’m not nervous at all, I’m very excited! I can feel a big smile on my face. I see a lot of people here – my Mom and Dad, and there is Ms. Jones (my PE teacher)! There are so many sounds around me right now. I hear basketballs dribbling, people talking, shoes squeaking on the court, and whistles blowing. It’s very warm in here. They called my name! What do I do? There’s Zack I see him at school, he plays basketball with me. He wants me to run out on the court with the team, wow! Everyone is giving me a “high-five”. I see Mary, she helps me in class and there is the lady that walks in the hallways at school all the time. So many people are here that I recognize. The lights are bright. The man in the funny uniform just blew his whistle, it was loud. They want me to come into the game and shoot a free throw. I have been practicing every day in class with Zack and Mary, I love shooting free throws! 1, 2, 3…let me have the ball again…4, and 5. I made it! So many people are clapping – it’s loud, the team is all around me – I’m so excited! I feel my body shaking. Wow, they are giving me a basketball and it has writing all over it. I’m going to hold it tight and never let it go. There is Ms. Jones again, she’s smiling at me. It’s warm in here.

My Thoughts…

Hearing, writing, and rewriting the stories above was a very interesting experience. It allowed me to sit, listen, and engage in the experience as my friend, a middle school Physical Education teacher, told me an amazing story about one of her autistic students and the idea she had to make him feel special for one night doing what he loved to do in class every day. There were numerous other people involved in organizing this special night that allowed the idea to come to fruition – students, paraprofessionals, the school principal, the referee, and the parents were all instrumental in making this happen.

The experience of hearing my friend tell this story was very emotional, in a good way. I could hear the excitement and pride in her voice and see the joy in her eyes as she told the story. The further she got into the story, the more details she shared not only about the event but about her experience working with the autistic kids in her class and how special they are. I found it a little difficult to express the context of the story (from the teacher’s perspective) in one paragraph because I felt there was so much that needed to be shared and expressed in order for the reader to really engage in the experience. I found that the hardest part of reframing the story and writing it from the student’s perspective, was trying to see and feel the experience as a person with autism. I called upon my friend’s expertise in the area to help me better understand and for a brief moment, walk in someone else’s shoes.


PDPics. (2014, July). [Basketball, Court, Ball, Game] [Image]. Retrieved from

Problem of Practice – CEP 817

Online Learning

Currently, I’m a member of the LMS/Online Advisory Committee at the college and often the topic of student retention comes up in conversation. Student retention is not only important in courses that are taught on campus in a traditional classroom, but also in the online environment as well. It seems that retention in online courses is an ongoing issue and we have yet to find a single viable solution. Is it the technology, the instructor, the teaching method, the student, the course? The list of questions goes on.

For some time now, I have been interested in exploring different ways to improve student retention in online courses so I thought this would be a great opportunity and an ideal problem of practice to explore. The Web Programming curriculum at the college where I teach is taught entirely online but I am going to focus on a single 8-week “Introduction to Web Programming” course (ITWP 1000) within the curriculum. This is a core introductory course within the program and is also a course that is required in many of the other IT programs at the college as well. I typically run 4 sections of the ITWP 1000 course in the Fall and Winter semesters at the college with full enrollment (26-28 students).

I have noticed that within the first week of the course; typically anywhere from 1-5 students drop the course and half way through, additional students may drop or withdraw from the course. For example, a course that begins with 26 enrolled students may end with only 18 and out of the 18, only 15 may have earned a passing grade. Unfortunately, I have no way of knowing the reason a student may drop or withdraw from a course unless the student chooses to share it with me and on occasion some students do. Time commitment, health issues, a family emergency, and finances are some of the reasons that students choose to share. Those types of issues are part of life of which we can’t control, but what about other issues such as their comfort level with technology and computers, reliable Internet access, course workload, lack of confidence, lack of motivation, or not understanding the course material? All of these are obstacles that may inhibit success.

Target Audience and Preliminary Thoughts

The students are going to be the primary target audience during my exploration into improving student retention in online courses (ITWP 1000) but I am very interested in the thoughts and opinions of my colleagues as well so they will play an additional role in my research. Some preliminary ideas of exploration (there may be more) include examining the following:

  • The use of “how-to” videos or video instruction within the course at crucial points.
  • The idea of hosting a “meet and greet the instructor” session online during the first few days of the online class.
  • The idea of hosting online sessions for some of the discussion forum activities for the course.
  • The use of online “tutoring” sessions and what technology could be used to accomplish it.
  • Establishing online office hours specifically for online students.
  • The idea of hosting 2-3 half hour (approximately) on campus sessions during the first few days of class where students can drop in to watch me demonstrate how to set up a connection to the web server and then attempt it themselves with me standing by if they need assistance.
  • The use of video conferencing software for student interaction.
  • Establishing common obstacles that may get in the way of success.

I’m very excited to dive into and explore the issues and obstacles surrounding the student retention rate in the ITWP 1000 course that I teach and the possible solution(s) to increasing student retention in the course.


SpliteShire. (2014, August). [Computer/Communication] [Image]. Retrieved from

P.Q. & C.Q. – “Live the questions NOW.”

The Journey

Looking back to the beginning of this course, we were asked a series of “Inside the Actor’s Studio” type of questions, questions that made me stop and really think about my answers. Little did I know that that type of questioning was laying the ground work for the entire course and what was to follow would prove to be a very engaging and enlightening experience. A quote by David McCullough from Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas immediately resonated with me:

“Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air, and behold the view. Climb is to you can see the world, not so the world can see you”  (Berger, 2012, p. 191).

So often we are more concerned with the “prize” at the end that we don’t enjoy the journey.

Questioning your own life can be scary but it can also be exciting. Berger (2012) points out that while you’re questioning your own life, don’t only look for what’s missing also look for what’s there via “appreciative inquiry”. Berger (2012) explains that “the main premise of appreciative inquiry is that positive questions, focusing on strengths and assets, tend to yield more effective result than negative questions focusing on problems or deficits” (p. 190). Bottom line, focusing on what is missing and what we don’t have elicits negative feelings that can block progress. Happiness researcher Tal Ben-Shahar suggests to “cultivate the habit of gratitude” as “gratitude is the shortcut to happiness” (pp. 190-191).

Technology, Passions, & Curiosities

In the ever changing world of technology where one of the few constants is change, being knowledgeable and knowing your stuff aren’t the only skills that are going to land you a job or make you efficient in your field. As Thomas Friedland (2013) so appropriately states, “We are a world that taken us from connected to hyperconnected”, just look around next time you’re waiting in a doctor’s office or walk into a coffee shop – people are glued to their electronic devices, technology is all around us.

Just being good with technology isn’t enough but add passion and curiosity to the mix and you create a recipe for success. pqandcqinfographicWhat is important to you? What are you passionate about? What are you curious about?  I asked myself those fundamental questions not only how they relate to my teaching career but also how they relate to my life in general. I answered those questions and visualized them in an infographic that depicts my P.Q. (passion quotient) and my C.Q. (curiosity quotient) as Friedland wrote about.

My passions in life and my career include:

  • Health & Well Being
  • Creativity
  • Learning
  • Technology

My curiosities include:

  • How can I bring project-based learning to the classroom and make learning more meaningful?
  • How can continuing to expand my PLN online and offline help with change in the classroom?
  • How do I encourage students to ask the “tough questions”?
  • How can technology be used to enhance and bring excitement to learning?

Ask the questions and never stop questioning.

I’m enjoying the educational and personal journey I’m on, embracing the challenges and “beholding the view”, living my passions, exploring my curiosities, embracing technology, and in the words of Rainer Maria Rilke, “Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers.”


Ben-Sharer, T. (2012, April). Five Ways to Become Happier Today. [Video File]. Retrieved from
Berger, W. (2014). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breathrough Ideas. New York City, NY: Bloomsbury USA.
Friedman, T. L. (2013, January 29). It’s P.Q. and C.Q. as Much as I.Q.. The New York Times. Retrieved from
McCullough, D. (2012, June). You Are Not Special Commencement Speech from Wellesley High School. [Video File]. Retrieved from
Rainer Maria Rilke > Quotes. (n.d.). Retrieved from

A Wicked Problem with a Solution

My think tank and I have were tasked with finding a solution to the wicked problem of teaching complex thinking. Over the past few weeks, we have discussed our wicked problem as a group, engaged in what, why, and how questioning, researched numerous online resources, surveyed our community of practice and analyzed the results, expanded our PLNs (personal learning networks), revisited learning theories, and have examined different opinions, ideas, and perspectives to arrive at a solution for effectively teaching complex thinking.

The initial issue we encountered (and actually the most difficult) was having to define complex thinking. Doing a simple Google search for “complex thinking” yielded search results that included critical thinking, complex thinking, and computational thinking used interchangeably. There was not a clear and concise definition that we could use as a starting point so we decided it was necessary to create our own definition of complex thinking. What seemingly was a small piece of a very large problem greatly added to its wickedness. We defined complex thinking as:

"Complex thinking is thinking in which people analyze, evaluate, and synthesis knowledge for application or creation in unique and useful ways within familiar and/or new situations."

While we were struggling with defining complex thinking, we continued our questioning, our research, examining our survey questions and results, and monitoring our PLNs. We decided that another virtual discussion was needed in order to wrap our heads around a solution for this wicked problem.Puzzle Concept Design Plan Team by G. Altmann -

After many weeks of engaging, collaborating and sharing, we finally arrived at a solution to teaching complex thinking that involves the formation of a Professional Learning Community (PLC) within the teaching community. You can read about our solution in greater detail within our solution page on our website.

It has been a pleasure being a part of and working with my Think Tank group! The problem of teaching complex thinking reared its wickedness multiple times throughout the project but in the end, we have tamed the wicked problem. View our website to read about how we defined “complex thinking”, a background on learning theories as it relates to our wicked problem, our thoughts and the opinions of others (survey results, PLNs, etc.), and finally our solution. We also included links to our survey results and infographics on our References page  – just in case we’ve piqued your interest because after all, we all love data and information! Feedback is welcomed!


Altmann, G. (2014, November). [Puzzle Concept Design Plan Team] [Image]. Retrieved from

A Healthy Info Diet, Data Deluge, & Filter Bubbles. Oh my!

I read it on the Internet to it must be true.

You may have heard this phrase said jokingly at one time or another but the reality is that we ARE constantly being bombarded with massive amounts of information and data on a daily basis –"data deluge" as Nicholas Carr (2010) describes it. As humans, we crave information. Search engines like Google and Yahoo and social networks like Twitter and Facebook feed into our information addiction. Social Network Tree by Gerd Altmann - do we decipher fact from fiction in this digital environment that we’ve created or that was created for us? Can we filter the information we receive so that we have a balanced information diet of “information vegetables and information dessert”(Eli Pariser, 2011)? Or can’t we? Just like it’s important to have a balanced diet in our daily lives for good health, it’s important to have a balanced diet in our digital lives and not one that is solely based on “information junk food” (Pariser, 2011) and biased thinking. Lastly, we have to filter out distraction. In order to get the most out of the information technologies out there (e.g., Twitter, Text messages, email, Google), we have to develop the skill to be able to turn those technologies off (Carr, 2010) so we’re not living in a constant state of distraction.

The Information Gatekeepers

Back in the day (which really isn’t that long ago), the Internet was seen as more of a connection to the world and to each other but “there is now a shift to how information is flowing online, and it’s silent and if we don’t pay attention it will cause real problems” (Pariser, 2011). Pariser is referring to the “algorithmic gatekeepers” that filter the information that we see when look at our Facebook page or do a search on Google. Algorithms are built into the web that track what links we click on the most, what products we search for, or who we are following on Twitter and then tailor our digital experience for us accordingly. This doesn’t necessarily mean that our experience is balanced – we don’t get to filter everything that makes up our digital experience the algorithms are doing all of that for us whether we are aware of it or not.

This week I took a close look at my info diet and in all honesty, I found my info diet heavily filled with information and data that shared the same viewpoints and opinions as my own. Sure I have some information vegetables, some information dessert, and even some information junk food sprinkled in but it’s all information that would fall into my comfort zone, what I found missing were opinions and information that challenged my thinking. My “filter bubble”, described by Pariser (2010) as “your own personal unique universe of information that you live in online”, was very biased.

In reaction to this, I have added numerous RSS feeds to my blog and have created, and added to, a Twitter list that includes information outside of my present filter bubble to create a more diverse and more balanced info diet.

The Wickedness of it All

Working and teaching in the field of web development, I’m aware of the number of algorithms on the web tracking our “clicks” and what we’re searching for in order to craft a more personal digital experience. Listening to Pariser’s TED Talk “Beware online “filter bubbles”, was enlightening. I never thought of the space that I occupied online as a bubble and the information contained in that bubble was being filtered in and out by algorithms. I simply viewed my personalized digital experience as the outcome of typical online marketing tactics. Pariser (2010) makes the plea to coders on the web that these algorithms filtering all of our information “need to have coded in them a sense of civic responsibility”. He goes on to argue that algorithms don’t have ethics embedded within them and we need to have some control over our filters. Just as I can choose to follow someone on Twitter or not, I should be able to chose the criteria for what’s being filtered in and out of my filter bubble.

The whole idea of turning technologies off and filtering out distraction is truly a wicked problem. Nicholas Carr (2011) explains that finding a new piece of information produces dopamine in our brain. The production of dopamine encourages us to keep doing that activity because it makes us feel good. That’s why doing a simple product search can send you off on tangents and bombard you with information all the while hours have gone by. I understand the “data deluge” that Carr is talking about; I’ve been there. Carr also mentions that multitasking doesn’t exist. What we are doing is essentially switching our focus quickly from one thing to another and in doing so we lose our ability to distinguish important information from trivia – we become distracted. We have to learn how to filter out distraction and to turn the technologies of our distraction off. I think part of the solution boils down to self-discipline and it’s not a simple task in a “connected world”.

After watching Henry Jenkins’ video on Participatory Culture and Civic Engagement, I reflected on what I observe within the my classrooms and I don’t see a world where everyone is participating and students are engaged outside of the classroom leveraging the power of networks and getting together to learn from each other, at least not most of the time. There are clubs at the college where liked minded students engage and learn from each other, but not to the extent that Jenkins speaks of based on my personal experience. What would it take to create a more participatory culture? More guidance and information filtering so people aren’t left to learn on their own? What we don’t want is to create “feral children of the Internet” (Jenkins, 2011).

A Healthy Digital Environment

In creating a more healthy and balanced info diet to better tackle the wicked problem of teaching complex thinking, I’ve added numerous RSS feeds that focus on different areas in education, varied affiliates, critical thinking, and diversified opinions. RSS feeds on diverse subjects in education.I also created a new list on Twitter based on education that includes people and/or organizations that provide new ideas, new insights, and that challenge my current way of thinking about teaching complex thinking as well as support it. Frequently reviewing the RSS feeds on my blog and reviewing new information on my Twitter list provides a constant stream of diverse data that has created a more balanced info diet. Every article, tweet, or feed may not entirely relate to teaching complex thinking, but it may offer insight or “leads” about different areas to explore. Regardless of the type of data stream, it’s important to be critical of every piece of information you read, see, and hear online.

I used Hootsuite as a way to manage the Twitter list (Education Related) that I created as part of my new, healthy info diet.

Hootsuite used to manage a personalized Twitter list.

Hootsuite used to manage a personalized Twitter list.

I also used TweetBeam as a way to personalize a tweet show using the hashtag #education and was presented with a variety of data and information related to education. You can see in action here.


Eli Pariser (2011) sums it up nicely, “We really need the Internet to be that thing. We need it to connect us, introduce us to new ideas, new people, and different perspectives.” 


Altmann, G. (2013, October). [Social Network Tree] [Image]. Retrieved from

Carr, N. (2011, June). Information: Making sense of the deluge. [Video File]. Retrieved from

Jenkins, H. (2011, August). Participatory Culture and Civic Engagement. [Video file]. Retrieved from

Pariser, E. (2011, May). Beware online “filter bubbles”. [Video file].  Retrieved from