Saturday, January 24, 2015

Youth Wants to be Connected

I finally ran the ECAR student survey data using SPSS. A dear friend suggested I use Excel's pivot tables and charts. I tried and felt more comfortable with SPSS (version 22 now! Wow!). I regret not doing it earlier. Even though I was discouraged against doing it by someone else, I've learned to listen to my heart and act on my intuition. There are a few other furious regrets I have about this project. I will keep them close to my heart and shake off things that don't matter to me. To say I'm driven to start and finish this project well is an understatement.

The ECAR data are "flat" and not exciting. They are single variables (questions) that elicited certain ratings from respondents, producing frequency counts. With SPSS (and also pivot tables), I could investigate bivariate relationships that WP Facet cannot do. 

At this preliminary stage, age seems to be the only demographic variable with a correlation to two other variables. My earlier hunch of a metaphor for the findings seem to be fading. Gender and ethnicity produced no statistical significance with any of the major variables I wanted to investigate. I will run more analyses but now, here are the two sets of variables with correlations. 

Age and Preferred Learning Environment - Positive Correlation

Age and Simultaneously Connected Devices - Negative Correlation

I will present these in a more exciting, creative way in a soon-to-be-constructed story, but this is my blog. I'm glad to be able to write like a boring researcher here. More analysis and inductive reasoning tomorrow. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Speaking and Not Understanding

After 2 weeks of redoing a web presentation of VCU's ECAR findings, I'm at Round 3 (or more, I forget, after trying to push some data up quickly by redoing charts over and over) -- figuring out what is at the heart of this project, and what we want to show from these findings. I hear a number of words repeated over and over. Here's my depiction of that situation.

In the liminal zone. 
The problem is that the mental model I have about research and dissemination of research findings is sloshing around in the whirlpool of new ideas that I'm yet to reconcile with. I do not understand inductive reasoning and the coding of themes from quantitative data.

In my current understanding, all research starts with a problem question, but now, I have a mass of data and I'm supposed to induce from collected data a problem question so as to "create a story," "construct a narrative," "tell a tale" etc. Yes, I hear you, my dear good-intention friends and colleagues. That is clear to me -- the storytelling part. These words are abstract input that need to be broken down, and operationalized into action, into deeds. Actually, no offense intended, but if anyone mentions another synonym for storytelling or narrative to me, I might have to excuse myself from the conversation. I've looked at the data since November and storytelling is what I've been trying to pursue. 

As I reflect, I find that we are all speaking the same language -- English, but NOT using the language in the same way. They are communicating through their filters of how they see the world. And I'm not making my thinking visible to anyone -- what I'm truly trying to tell them is not conveyed. 

Reframing my perspective, the work as far as I understand myself entails these processes: 
  • Reading the data findings repeatedly to induce themes from 2 surveys that might lead to a general research question or two.
  • Then, when you have a clear question (or two), I can begin to tell a story to the intended audience. 
  • What is a metaphor for the findings? (No, I will never use the phrase "digital natives.") 
  • David McCandless and company are wonderful, but nothing "fancy" can begin until I unearth the questions from the data to reveal what is significant about the findings. The real work. 
I want to soar but I feel like a tortoise plodding on. And I can't afford to be one.

But learning something new and forging new knowledge or a mental model often humbles me and trains me -- to be teachable and be willing to fail forward. Onward. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015


Intricate Gate
Intricate Gate

Doing the Selfie
The above two photos were taken on July 30, 2014, on my first photo safari with my colleagues.

The next 4 were taken on January 16, 2015 with my new colleagues, Emma and Max, with Tom leading. All photos were taken using my Samsung Galaxy phone.

The Throne
I find this throne-like chair that is blocking the doorway curious.

Winter Tree

I have a penchant for snapping pictures of trees -- blooming, withered, snarling. They are easily symbols of life and death.

1005 and 1007
Architecture is another fave subject. "Don't they all look the same after a while?" my husband asks. Not really.

I could have shifted myself so that the little bit of another building would be out of the picture. But I find imperfection in photos sometimes rather peculiarly endearing and real. I've added another painted layer over the original photo to make it more imperfect, :-P.

New Faculty Academy 1-9-15
Stan and I were there with Tom. I was happy to find that several participants found ALT Lab's services interesting despite the food distraction.

Down the Street Where I Work

I saw with fresh eyes how lovely these houses were to the left of the building where I work. New eyes are good.

Awesome Excel Chart Quick Tips for Web Display

Last week, my colleagues and I created 3 Excel spreadsheets in an effort to highlight some of VCU participants' responses to the EDUCAUSE ECAR Undergraduate Student and Faculty Technology Research Studies Surveys. This division of labor resulted in an unfortunate consequence. Different machines, different data, and different perspectives resulted in different data presentation styles. To standardize the look of the charts, I offered to be the general editor. One set of eyes working on one machine is likely the best way to make the look and language of the charts consistent. This is our first pass at presenting the data. We had wanted to present the data using a more interactive format. For now, we've created a blogpost for each chart and used WordPress's Facet plugin to facilitate a search-mix-and-connect possibility. At this point, our thinking is that, perhaps, once we see what the overall data findings show in this round, we could work on improving the data presentation style.

At first, we were limited by Microsoft's color palette of Chart Styles in Excel. All three of us had agreed on a blue-red-green style because the Student Survey I was working on had 3 columns of data to compare (VCU 2013, VCU 2014 and National Average 2014). Once we uploaded all the images from the 2 surveys, the colors looked pretty dismal on the web. Tom Woodward, my supervisor, suggested we google for some "awesome color palettes for websites" to replace the hideous-looking charts.

A google search led us to the Betterment site with a collection of web color palettes. The palette for us had to allow for high contrast and yet be aesthetically pleasing. #42 - Adam Hartwig's palette it is. Thank you, Mr. Hartwig! [Note: He has a pretty awesome website himself, check it out.]

Creating a Palette in Excel (Mac computer)

I had no idea how to insert Hartwig's palette into Excel's color charts. As far as I could recall, Excel had no option for a user to enter hexadecimal web color codes. Once again, Tom came to the rescue.

On an iMac, double-clicking on the chart area opens up a Format Plot Area window. From there, select Fill > click on the drop-down menu besides Automatic > select More Colors.

Format Chart Area Window
Format Chart Area Window

Make sure you are then on the Color wheel tab (see image below). See the Magnifier icon beside the white color box? Click on it and it turns into a color dropper.

Selecting the Correct Color
Selecting the Correct Color

I had Hartwig's color palette open just beside the color wheel window. I clicked on all 5 colors and they showed up right away on the white little swatch boxes below the color wheel.

Hartwig's Color Palette Shows on My Color Swatch boxes!
Hartwig's Color Palette Shows on My Color Swatch boxes!

Back to my Excel charts with this color palette. At first, I thought this arrangement looked okay, but after applying it to the existing charts, it began to look a bit too bubble-gummy and jaundiced-looking. Especially if I just had 2 columns of data - VCU 2014 and National Average 2014 to compare (yellow and green; yellow and green, ... yuk!). I couldn't tolerate it too long and didn't know how anyone else could.

Pink-Yellow-Green Color Selection
Pink-Yellow-Green Color Selection

So after I had reformatted all the charts to the pink-yellow-green palette, I decided to switch it to another color arrangement - green, turquoise, black. It seemed to look more professional.

Green-Turquoise-Black Color Selection
Green-Turquoise-Black Color Selection

Save Your Preferred Chart Style as a Template

How could I change all 70-something charts to the same color palette efficiently? The solution is to save my preferred Chart Style as a template. This option is available under the Chart > Other (Chart Type) menu. Click on the dropdown menu > Scroll to the bottom. See the Save as Template phrase?

Creating a Chart Template in Excel
Creating a Chart Template in Excel

Once your preferred template(s) is saved, you can click on your existing chart > click on Other > Select your XYZ template and apply it to the hideous chart, and voila! All the settings you had saved in your template apply to your existing chart -- including chart title, text, horizontal and vertical axes and colors. How amazing is this?! 

Even though I was a research assistant in grad school and processed much survey data, I had not once thought of how the chart colors might look set against an entire website. This perspective is new to me. I'm happy to learn time-saving ways to speed up the work process. Thanks Tom and Adam Hartwig!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Olé Days 2 & 3

Days 2 and 3 of OLE offered participants more new ideas to refresh pedagogical perspectives and work on their course sites.

1. Moving Images (In both sense of the word "moving")

Collage of stills from VCU course video trailers' by VCU ALT Lab, Molly Ransome and team
Collage of video stills from course trailers of 4 VCU professors

Molly Ransome shared with the participants course trailers of Ryan Cales, Jason Coats, Dianne Jennings,  Gardner Campbell and a few other instructors. The trailers were each fabulous in their own ways. Gardner's trailer is a self-made one that made us chuckle (and I'm not saying this because he is the Vice Provost of the Office of Learning Innovation and Student Success where I work). Gardner shows us that anyone can make a video clip if in possession of a smartphone. His trailer is whimsically and distinctively HIM; I hear his voice (literally, figuratively). The session inspired one participant to make one of her own, right away, i.e. after class, that day. Holly Buchanan, I salute you!

Well done, Holly, Molly and Team Creative at ALT Lab! If I were a student in any of these cited courses, these trailers will help me feel less isolated from a community of online learners who I don't get to see -- unless someone posts a message or communicates in some way. I'd love to hear, see and connect a face to my online instructor from the very beginning of my learning experience. It sets the right tone.

2. Practice Makes Perfect ...

... is indeed a truism. I spoke for 20 minutes (thereabouts) four times on the same topic, at 4 different stations/tables, for our Digital Petting Zoo session. By the end of the fourth session, I was cruising. Any reservations I had -- about how to talk to new bloggers about blogging for connected learning in 20 minutes without any projector or display surfaces -- were banished. I used a combination of devices and apps -- participants had their laptops; I emailed or tweeted a shared document; I wrote short URLs on a piece of paper (which didn't seem to work very well)... But you learn to adapt quickly.

We had great conversations at each table. I've been thinking if 20 minutes is long enough, including time for moving to different tables. I do like keeping things concise though!

Digital Petting Zoo VCUOLE
Image of whiteboard writing surface, and Jon Becker, Director of VCU ALT Lab. 

3. An Enthusiastic Learning Community

We had two OLE cohorts -- one gathered at Monroe Park Campus and one at MCV Campus, where I was at. On two occasions, we were connected via video conferencing. My reflections are based on my interactions with the MCV cohort participants alone, who were minds-on and hands-on with their learning. They were so engrossed in their discussions that food was an afterthought on Day 3.

VCU School of Nursing Doctoral Nursing Program group
VCU School of Nursing's Doctoral Nursing Program faculty
Thank you again for the delightful discussions. See you at Agora or the e-highway soon!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Olé, Olé, Olé

According to Wikipedia (Oops! The mention of this word might start a friendly argument!), the word "olé" might refer to several things, including a football chant, with the star footballer's name added to the end. In my case, I refer to both a rah-rah cheer (Go! VCU OLE!) and a program the ALT Lab is running.

Today was Day 1 of the Institute and has been a pretty intense time with lots of ideas presented to participants. We are all going to spend some time tonight doing HW, yup, Home Work! So this is going to be a short post. I will share 3 things that stood out for me today:

1. Example of an engaging learning experience that makes students think deeply. 
Leaf from a shrub? Spicebush
Leaf from a shrub? Spicebush?
I took some pictures of leaves in the setting sun and uploaded one of them to a course site, Field Botany. (FYI, I'm a little confused as I'm unsure if the leaves were those of a tree or shrub since I will admit I rushed through this exercise to get to other OLE prep for tomorrow. I invite you to click on the course site and explore it yourself.) This is a well-crafted, interactive and engaging learning experience. It allows the learner to use various thinking skills to learn about trees/leaves -- observation, comparison, making connections, forming conclusions, reasoning ... Yes, I am a fan of learning via thinking and intellectual development.

2. Video-conferencing presents challenges and has yet to live up to its promise. 
My colleague, Enoch Hale, gave a presentation that was shared with another group of OLE participants meeting on the Monroe Park campus via videoconferencing. Despite advanced testing and preparation to use the software, some challenges still arose. Audaciously, I'll say that no current videoconferencing hardware and software are able to capture the in-person experience and transmit that to another location in a manner many of us desire.

The audio capability of the software was not optimum today. In both rooms where human conversation had taken place at a normal decibel level, the presenter was tethered to the console/microphone because moving any distance away led to participant feedback about inaudibility. Also, for a presentation where there were a number of starts and stops for participant discussions, it was difficult for my colleague to try to catch the attention of participants on the other campus via video when he wanted to start or stop the activity. Initially, I had to text another colleague to get him to relay the presenter's messages to the facilitator on the other campus. I attribute the challenges to both human and nonhuman factors. However, I believe the poor audio capability of the hardware/software made things more difficult for the presenter to control the discussion starts and stops. My verdict: we need more sophisticated video conferencing hardware and software.

3. What if...
I wonder if we could have participants get up and move around a bit more to actively participate in the experience. Although they were encouraged to take notes on the shared Google Doc, I wish the room had more writing/doodling surfaces -- whiteboards, touch screen monitors, and space to encourage learners to be more active in documenting their learning. (Yes, there are understandably facility constraints.) I was glad to see a few learners taking pictures and sharing the camaraderie on Twitter. Well, tomorrow is another day of possibilities.