Killer Instructional Content – Short & Punchy

I couldn’t help but want to share these amazing videos. These belongs in some kind of master category of a good example of the best kind of  instructional content; it’s brief and catchy.

And they were made by a kid!

First I discovered Two, To, and Too, but then I just decided to grab all his grammar videos and post them here because they are such a good example.

In well under a minute, Gus Rachels explains the differences between words that are commonly confused, and he does so in a far more engaging and memorable way than most textbooks. These videos are short and punchy, significantly shorter than many Youtube videos on the same topics. I can easily imagine someone actually wanting to watch these more than once, because they’re just so freakin’ awesome!

For anyone who teaches online, there’s one big takeaway I hope you get from these examples. A big production budget can’t make a silk purse out of  sow’s ear,  and something really great doesn’t necessarily need anything more than a webcam and genuine enthusiasm.

Thanks for showing us how it’s done Gus!

UPDATE – I’ve noticed the videos have been marked private which is unfortunate because they are such a good example. I’m leaving the embed code in place in case he changes  their status.

Two, to, and Too

Your and You’re





On Wabi Sabi and the Rough Draft

Not Ready To Bloom

Not Ready To Bloom

I’m reflecting on my last week in my course and the realization that something I really liked was the fact that we submitted rough drafts for peer review in the course.

While at first I’d scoffed at the idea, I realize that I appreciate not only being able to read my partner’s rough draft and give her my fresh eye and that she does the same for me, but that I can also see this process with everyone else.

I went through the threads and briefly scanned how others organized their papers, and I was glad I could see the feedback others have provided for their partners.

I realize in this observation that while I still take responsibility for writing my own paper, thinking for myself and not relying on Kate’s feedback, in a sense I do think that seeing how other people approach their work gave me a little comfort that we all face the same struggles and have some of the same blinders on.

If nothing else, a bit of anxiety was relieved; everybody worries that their draft is too rough, and that their thoughts are too jumbled. Everybody sees other people’s work and worries their own doesn’t measure up in some way.

So I guess I have actually benefited from the collaborative aspect of online learning, even though the final wasn’t a collaborative project.

So it was helpful to see the messy process with others so that I can turn back to my own paper and perhaps rethink my organization or my approach. Or just try relax a little bit and allow for the fact that it is a learning process and we all do the best we can.

‘It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.’

Picasso talked about just how hard it is to lose all the self consciousness that’s part of our socialization, and is the antithesis of that which is real, of that which is art.

I’ve written before of personae and masks and the struggle to be authentic. Well rough drafts are certainly authentic. They represent such an vulnerable and uncomfortable state to be in, they can make one feel so ugly and unpolished. And isn’t that the absolute worst sin in our culture?

Oh how I like to imagine myself a fearless woman, embracing all the rough and messy and unfinished of myself!  God how I love the idea of truly embracing my Wabi Sabi…

… but the truth is, I’m still trying to make it look ‘cool’ at the same time.  I know that painting like a child can only happen when you’ve stop trying to be cool.

I’m not there yet.


Assessing Speed


I can’t believe I’m starting the fifth week of my class tomorrow. God time really does go too fast, but why is that exactly?

In looking back over this process for the last month, I’m glad that I clearly do have a sense of humor about things. It has served me well in so many ways, but I also realize that it indicates how riled up I can really get. I want to pay attention to those things.

I know I’m something of a control freak and perfectionist, and as much as I’d like to think this aspect has mellowed over time, (and I know it has to some degree), I’m far from laid back. So this week I write this while visiting my parents, on my mom’s Mac. What a pain it is to use someone else’s computer with a whole slew of things to irritate the neo-luddite in me!

But most of all, however, I resent how time has just gone too fast.I don’t like this condensed format. I feel so rushed and I haven’t procrastinated at all. There is no time to let anything marinate.

I’ve got an outline for my paper and I roughly know what I’m going to say and do in it. But I’ll do some of the writing and editing for that tomorrow, then it has to be submitted as a draft Thursday, and I have to write a response to someone else’s on Friday, and then turn back to my own paper…

I certainly can’t wait till Saturday for peer feedback, but that needs to be integrated on Sunday, and forget a chance to let it rest 24 hours before a final polish! There’s no time for that, the polish will happen on Monday after work, ready or not.

I can’t be the only person who hates this 5 week format!  I’m blazing through the class and materials, and I’ve had some good moments, but then they’re gone – whoosh! Geez, I take longer to read and digest a single book then I’ve spent on this entire class, and I’m not that slow a reader!

I do like to ‘chew’ on ideas. So I’ve come full circle, and am back to wanting my cave. I’m not the only one who feels like we’re missing something in this rushed world. I’ve found another book to add to my list of post graduate school reading- In Praise of Slowness.

In doing these reflections here, I get a little irritated by the expectation of growth or an epiphany. The irritable person in me dismisses that thought with a derisive snort. Thinking and reflecting is hard work! I’ve written in a journal for thirty years, and reflection to me is going back over serious chunks of time; the hard year, the summer of the ugly breakup…

Spending half the night re-reading the journal pages of a pivotal year of my life, 6 months to a few years later, well now there’s some reflection happens.

But this? This rushed display, a just a going through the motions that will look like reflection to most observers.

“See…I’m writing in my journal? I’m having these deep thoughts.”

True reflection isn’t a process that’s lightening fast, and in my experience it doesn’t come with all the light and big noise either!

It’s quieter, much more invisible work, or would certainly involve more work in the reading and the writing.

A sunset isn’t an epiphany, or even a singular moment either. It can only be observed if you stop what you’re doing long enough to actually sit through it. The quality of light that changes in the sky is tremendous over a period of an hour. It’s not a five minute episode of just the solar disk visually touching the earth.

I don’t want to condense my life to only those moments that are the most obvious. I want to slow down.

Turtle image from Pixabay. Retrieved 10/21/14

“But Everybody Loves Being Part of a Group!”

I don’t like working in a group. There, I said it!

I don’t feel like it’s a very productive activity, and I’m certainly not convinced a better product is produced by it. I think I probably spent as much time as if I done the paper myself, so it’s certainly not more efficient. At least it’s a decent paper that I’m not embarrassed of.

But I have worked in groups where I felt dragged down, or where I had to carry the group. I am grateful for Don’s leadership. If he wasn’t the one to jump in so early, I do think it would have been me. But I am so much happier being a right hand man to a good leader than being a leader per se.

What I have learned from this experience is that people do need to learn how to work in groups, and by that I mean the logistics you only discover in the doing. The cumbersome use of chat, for example, when none of us have ever used it. And then there’s the confusing tangle of forum threads! At least we did end up with a common Google doc, but even then some people don’t know how to edit in Google…

The morning it’s due when I check on it, there’s still concern being expressed that the opening doesn’t address the other topics we talked about, and that we can’t access our original chat history.

I don’t know if it’s out of place,  but I went in anyway and made some more edits.

There’s no time to decide who’s turn it is! I have absolutely no idea who much anyone else has done. I know what is my own writing, and I know how much leadership was provided by Don, but that’s about it. There’s some paragraphs that are not my own, but thankfully it’s all pretty coherent. So this paper is somewhat like what I would have written… well except, it’s not. I would have gone in my own direction.

But this is not about me. It’s about a group project. And as group projects go, I guess I’ll call it a success because it’s done and I’m not embarrassed it. But I don’t feel like I own it. I made a good contribution to the effort.

Am I obnoxious for thinking my contributions are better when they’re entirely my own?

Oh but speaking of purity….I cannot end this week’s entry without also mentioning that dealing with formatting issues is not a productive use of my time, and that the Neo-Luddite in me could write an entire post about how much technology only gets in my way!

I wrote an entire post in a text box in the LMS, and for the life of me could not fix the ugly formatting that showed up after I hit the submit button. I put it in a text editor to strip it – twice! I cut all the html from the text box, I copied and pasted into a regular document, and then back into the LMS, and still my paragraph breaks didn’t show! But I will not be thwarted, I finally beat the LMS into an exhausted submission. Seriously…that is the only explanation.

Is anybody keeping track of this aspect of online learning; all those little necessary but unproductive things that add real time to turning in a decent assignment?

God Almighty, Stupid Computers!

On Content Creation and Collage….

The hot topic this week seemed to be about intellectual property rights and content creation. One student posted a timely article about this – (retrieved 10/5/14 . Stacey Patton (10/2/14).

but what really got me is a quote from within the article that underscores an emerging reality; there’s a difference between content creators and facilitators, but more importantly, content trumps creator. (The issue about online education being provided by an increasingly higher number of adjunct professors with part-time status is problematic on it’s own, but that’s another issue for another day.)

I’m wondering about how we see ourselves in higher education if there’s a split that divides us into either content creators/professors or adjunct facilitators. But how the hell are content creators going to handle being split apart from their content?

The quote that really drove this home for me was when the Susan Gautsch, the director of online learning from USC said ““If I was a student…I wouldn’t care if the stories were theirs or not. Was I entertained and captivated? Did this course keep me engaged? I don’t care about the person. I care about my learning around these stories.”

Honestly, she’s right.

This “depersonalized” aspect of online education is also mentioned in the article by Assumption College director on Center for Teaching Excellence James M. Lang. I think this is certainly the trend in online education, but in the wider sense, this depersonalization is everywhere.

Come on….isn’t context overrated?!

What this is essentially about, is an inevitable move away from the focus on content creators. With so much being created, the focus has to shift to the need for curating content. We can access and integrate only so much, isn’t consolidation of content inevitable too?

I can’t help but see a connection between this attitude and the asynchronous trend. Asynchronous has gone seriously mainstream; it’s in everything from content to how we communicate. Everything is broken apart, depersonalized, and reduced to the lowest common denominator of meaning.

How else could we have gotten to the micro chunk that is a tweet or a hashtag?

No longer is communication situated in a fixed moment. (Though our communications would fix us; pinned and wriggling to the wall!)

I’m thinking about how I text now; regularly. More than that, I actually appreciate communication un-hinged from the constraints of time and my busy schedule. Texting makes communication dispersed. I’m thinking about small dispersed, informal content creation, and how much of what Daniel and I watch is shorter bits of content on Youtube.

I just realized how I don’t really watch movies anymore either. Wow.

I watch mini documentaries made by indie outfits, or self-produced Youtuber stuff more than  mainstream commercially produced. I’m not sure I have any loyalty to anyone like I used to, not like the loyalty I used to have to specific movie producers. (I still have writers I’m loyal to, but I also think of them in the context of real things; physical books on my bookshelf.)

Much of what I find interesting online, however, is essentially content that is compiled commentary. It’s nameless, faceless…. It’s other content producers making content into…well I guess I’m thinking of collage and pastiche.

Yeah, Google isn’t king anymore. The real party is outside the castle gates;  where messy web-feeds are dancing with filthy mashups …

I Need A Cave!

I began my certificate program, in Online Teaching and Learning, this week at CSU East Bay. My weekly blog entries here will house weekly observations, allow for venting of my not-so-private rants and fears, and hopeful document an internal process of learning and awareness that may provide fodder for some future works.

A Clumsy Start

Being the self described techno-dork that I am, I found Blackboard a bit awkward at first. More than just new navigation, however, I experienced an inordinate about of anxiety over minor discrepancies between the syllabus and course shell.

I know better, I truly do! And yet I still had what another student aptly described as a “mini-meltdown”. I knew the syllabus had content from a previous mod, and yet I let myself get carried away with worry, and still I go back and forth to read and re-read, check and double everything. I’m convinced I missing something else. Then I worried about cognitive load; imagining that these demands on my energy are too much away from my ability to be truly productive.

I did notice an awareness that each different LMS is going to have its own benefits and drawbacks that should probably be taken into consideration when involved with course design. That didn’t stop me from wishing there was a definitive one page weekly overview that covered just this first week. That must be the holy grail of all course design; one magic component that solves all woes for students, instructors, and course designers alike!

Keeping track of discussions was also harder than I thought it might be. I wondered if I should have read one article at a time and then respond to that corresponding discussion. Is there a right way to do this? Maybe it’s better to read everything first, and let it all sink in and marinate a bit.

Yeah I do need a cave.

Reading Online Is Horrible, and It’s Distracting!

I already knew I preferred a hard copy to a Kindle version for non-fiction, and I knew that I’d elect to buy physical text books. I didn’t expect to feel such anxiety about the reading of online articles, however. Nor did I anticipate such a rabbit hole of temptation at every turn! What a potential time suck, and how can I manage to keep all this content organized?

That reminds me….I need to add The Shallows to my Amazon list….. but I digress. (And do so completely aware of the irony!)

Of course I have to print and keep everything in a physical binder. I like the printed page, highlighter, notes scribbled in margins, and sticky tags. Saving as PDFs with electronic highlighters are just not the same. I know I’m strongly kinesthetic in my learning style, but it’s not as if I don’t read all the time online for God’s sake!

Somehow this is really different though. It’s hard to put my finger on, but I first noticed it with the Kindle. Fiction is fine, but I don’t interact with fiction the way I do with non-fiction. I need the physicality of words on paper, I need to chew and digest them in an almost literally way.

But I’ve loved some of the reading this week. I most enjoyed the Thornburg article about primordial learning metaphors; with the campfires, water holes, and the cave. It made me think of Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, about how introverts need time and space for contemplation.

The need for isolation is absolutely critical for me. And it’s more than just physical space. So many aspects of modern technology, (the social or public aspect, and the permanence), is a horror! In Thornburg’s article I notice I’m immediately irritated when he suggests that the rite of passage can be interpreted as external knowledge that has become internalized.

Isn’t this the absolute opposite of what the cave metaphor suggests?! Certainly knowledge moves and becomes internalized, hence we say that we “process” ideas, but I think the idea of going on a vision quest and isolating oneself is very much about trying to escape socialization’s constraining influence.

My understanding of a vision quest and a rite of passage, is to go to an internal place, to find the “source”. To find out what you are made of, on your own.

I did love Thornburg’s example of the bad conference though, with no access to watering holes or caves! And I think he nails it about multimedia being a new medium that we don’t know how to work in yet. I am excited about how we’ll implement his vision of an interactivity that “…lets us move beyond the linear presentation of material” and be involved in the “creation of a unique story.”

“It is, instead, the storytellers craft writ large — a new medium of expression whose ideas cannot be captured or presented in any other medium. We are experiencing the birth pains of this new craft, and it promises to be a noisy baby.” (pg8)

Honestly, what he envisions Neal Stephenson’s young lady’s primer, from the novel The Diamond Age.

Oh and course I’m reminded of Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. I read that as a teenager too, and now I’m working in this industry, and now here I am in a class that’s probably ten weeks condensed to a five week format, and yeah I’m freaking out.

So of course I wonder about the critiques of technology, and the internet specifically, as I feel my own brain as this fractured, wounded thing. I am even patient enough to focus in the way that Thornburg’s cave requires?

So many good ideas – look up Marshall McLuhan, communications theorist who coined the phrase“the medium is the message”. So much more in depth research to do- David Thornburg; Holo-deck classroom; that reminds me of an Issac Asimov story I read as a child, The Fun They Had.

So many connections I need to make, and then to take apart!

Maya Angelou: On Finding Our Voice

Lastly, what a delight it was to listen to the embedded video from Maya Angelou, talking about how important it is to speak up, to sing, to raise your voice. She says that staying silent is “addictive” and “dangerous”.

I am very interested in how technology shapes our communication, and I’ve long been interested in how we present our ‘personae’ online. I am still skeptical of the concept of communication online, however. I know how the notion of surveillance changes our behavior, and in trying to find my voice, I feel the fear of permanence, and of being pigeon holed.

All communications online forms a kind of permanent record. What kind of influence does that have on what I will choose to write, or to omit? What kind of a cage is that?

That’s a cage a bird like me would really beat its wing upon!

Thornburg, David. Campfires in Cyberspace: Primordial Metaphors for Learning in the 21st Century. Retrieved 9/30/14 from