Regina Dugan’s Presidential Lecture

This evening I attended Regina Dugan’s Presidential Lecture at VT. Her remarks tracked the history of innovation and made a compelling case that innovation must be treated as a discipline. Her experience at DARPA, Google, and now Facebook have provided Dugan with a unique and broad experience in advancing innovation, which she describes as a “way of life.”

During her lecture, I tweeted the question below that I believe captures the central challenge of her remarks to the Virginia Tech community.


Her response was that organizations are often limited not by what they can do, but by what they “believe” they can do. Thus, an important idea for the Beyond Boundaries process is to create spaces where students and faculty can make bold moves without the fear of failure. As Dugan argued, the ability to fail is a necessary part of innovation. I’ll come back to one idea for how Virginia Tech could make innovation a ‘way of life’ in a moment.

During the Q&A session, Dugan remarked that the ability of her research teams to move fast (i.e., innovate) is due to the depth of disciplinary knowledge held by team members and their broad curiosity. This comment mirrors the idea of a VT-shaped student – a student with disciplinary depth (the “I”), transdisciplinary knowledge (the “–”), and who demonstrates purpose-driven engagement (the “V”) – which is now a central part of the Beyond Boundaries vision. Dugan also highlighted the importance of having people who are willing to walk across to other disciplines to understand how they are viewing a problem and to learn from them. The idea of needing to ‘walk’ to visit another discipline feels familiar!

Dugan’s ideas point to the need to create sandbox spaces or studios where students from any discipline can work on ‘use-inspired’ solutions to significant problems. According to Dugan, challenges should stretch the imagination to the point of discomfort – i.e., there should be no known solution so students and faculty are required to work at/create the leading edge of knowledge. By making the sandbox or studio a capstone experience, students would be equipped with the disciplinary expertise needed for teams to ‘move fast’ on a problem. However, to make innovation a ‘way of life,’ we would need to find ways for students at any stage of their academic career to engage in these experiences. This challenge points to the need for an ecosystem of spaces (that includes VT’s living learning communities) where students can work in a transdisciplinary setting.

A final point I found interesting was the idea of understanding the core purpose of your actions. Dugan commented that 93% of our face-to-face time with our parents is completed by the time we leave high school. This rather alarming statistic (for parents!) reveals one frontier that Facebook is looking at – i.e., how to make family communication seamless. My second tweeted question to Dugan was inspired by her idea of “friction free communication.”


While Dugan was not asked this question, her response to a different question provided a possible answer. The secret is to focus on the “outcomes” not the technology. Thus, a question for the Beyond Boundaries process is what are the outcomes that technology could help us realize?

Video Feedback Community

Thanks to everyone who attended my CHEP 2016 practice session yesterday on Providing Video Feedback on Assignments. After my presentation I spoke with several people who were interested in creating a private community where educators could discuss issues related to providing video feedback. This community would be a place to discuss platform/software/technical issues and to discuss ways to maximize the value of the video feedback provided to students. Thus, I have decided to keep the “Video Feedback” community I created for the practice session and will enroll educators into this community upon request. Please send me an email if you would like to join the conversation (make sure you send this email from the account you have linked to a Google+ profile).

The Video Feedback community can be accessed by selecting the image below. If you are not yet a member and would like to join, you can ask to join the community while viewing the community information. I recommend you list your academic affiliation on your Google+ profile so I know your interest in the community is genuine.


Providing Video Feedback on Assignments

On Wednesday, February 10, at 10am, I will be giving a Practice Session at the 2016 Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy on Providing Video Feedback on Assignments. I have posted below the material I will be using during this 50-minute session.

During the session I will discuss how to [1] create a video-feedback platform using SnagIt, Google+, Google Circles, and YouTube, [2] structure the process of providing video feedback, and [3] what to include in the feedback video. I plan to share what I have learned from experimenting with Google Apps and screen capture software, and from recording over 300 assignment feedback videos.

Click on the image below to access the first Google Doc that will be used during the practice session. This document provides instructions on what participants will need to do to be able to engage in the session.


The second Google Doc below provides guidance on how to set up a Google Apps platform for a course.


The slides below provide some initial results from my research into providing video feedback on assignments.

Innovation in Teaching Using Google Apps

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of talking with the PGG doctoral students about life as a faculty member and how I approach the design of my courses. In this post, I thought I’d capture some of the ideas we discussed about my overall approach to teaching.

My teaching philosophy is largely a product of my own learning and research experience. I believe students should be encouraged to think—and approach problems—in an integrative and transdisciplinary manner. I believe that teaching innovation occurs through a process of creative destruction, where new ideas and ways of learning continually challenge, replace, or enhance the old. The challenge, though, is knowing when something is working and why. Thus, evaluating how I can improve my teaching and mentoring of students is a central part of my philosophy.

In 2013, I was invited to become a Google Glass Explorer, which had a profound impact on how I approach my teaching and interact with students. Prior to Glass, my engagement with students was structured, perhaps ‘constrained,’ by the VT Scholar [course management] system and by my scheduled class time with students. I believe the ability to ‘recycle’ my courses in Scholar had the effect of dampening my enthusiasm to radically revise each course. I became aware of this after making the transition to delivering all of my courses using various combinations of VT Google Apps. The ease at which an entire course can be created in Google Drive and changed while in progress is liberating. Students can also take control of the course platform and share information either via a public or private Google+ Community or in a shared Google Drive folder. This process enables students to take ownership of their learning and become teachers in the process. This enables me to focus less on identifying and mastering content, and more on helping students interpret and locate new information, ideas, and theories in their own learning frameworks or value systems.

I now build each of my courses around a shared Google Drive folder and a public or private Google+ Community. I’d recommend using a private community so that links to course-related Apps can be embedded in the community (see the top right corner of the image below). All assignments are managed via Google Classroom. Course communication happens primarily in a Google+ Community or via messages I send from my Google+ account to a Google Circle created for each course. [Note to Google – it would be useful if I could also send these message directly from my VT gmail account.] The Google Circles are important since they enable me to quickly identify specific students when in YouTube so I can send them private assignment-feedback videos. Whereas I used to record these videos using Google Glass, I recently made the transition to Snagit, which enables me to capture my computer screen while providing audio feedback on a student’s assignment. After recording a video (1 to 5 minutes in length), I directly upload it to YouTube from Snagit, making sure the video has a clear label and is set to ‘private.’ From YouTube, I privately share the feedback video with each student. After viewing the video, students are able to send me private comments on my feedback (in Google+/YouTube), which creates a two way dialogue rather than a one way conveyance of information. Since January 2014, I have recorded well over 100 assignment-feedback videos that have been sent to students in six different courses. I am currently working with Mary English to evaluate the impact of this feedback and we plan to publish the results of this research later this year.


A benefit of the Google Apps platform is that it enables the sharing of information from any device at any time of day. I believe learning can occur at any moment, such as when riding the bus or a bike, taking a walk, or even sitting in one of my colleague’s classes! Having a platform that enables students to engage from wherever they are is important. The Google+ community is the medium where students can link the theories/ideas we discuss in the classroom to real-world events. This process deepens their understanding of the material and may result in better long-term retention due to the networked nature of the conversation and information.

As should be evident from the above description, the suite of Google Apps I’m using has ‘freed’ my approach to teaching that is now more fluid and flexible. However, now that I have complete control over my courses, I also need to manage the enrolment/disenrollment of students from each course. While this process can be a little challenging, once the Apps have been mastered the process is relatively straightforward. The autonomy of the platform has enabled me to explore the idea of letting students be a lifelong member of a course, which I am trying in my sustainability class. My hope is that as students progress through their professional careers, they will re-engage with the course when they have something to contribute or if they want to refresh or update their knowledge. This approach to delivering a course could advance a learning model that is truly lifelong.

In summary, my experience with using Google Apps has led to one significant realization. The systems we use to support our teaching can either enable or inhibit innovation in teaching. Those systems that can be easily integrated and adapted are likely to survive, whereas those that constrain creatively are likely to stifle innovation in teaching. While Google Apps are not perfect, their flexibility and ease of use means that it is more difficult to become locked-in to a system or way of delivering a course. I have full autonomy over how I administer, structure, and approach my courses, which I believe is the key to teaching innovation.

Using Glass at VT

In the video below, Brian Mathews and I provide some insight into how faculty and students are using Google Glass at Virginia Tech.

[Acknowledgments: I’d like to thank Carlos Waters for his help in editing the above video. I’d also like to thank Virginia Tech’s Networked Learning Initiatives and InnovationSpace for the resources they have made available for members of the VT Glass team.]

For additional information on how faculty and students are using Glass at Virginia Tech, see the recently published Tech Teams White Paper.


Prescription Lenses for Google Glass

5After a couple of months of searching, Dr. Steve Jacobs and I found a way to create a pair of prescription lenses for my Google Glass device. The final product has a kind of industrial edge to it that I rather like. The clip-on lenses match the curvature of the frame, so they look great. This is also the first time I have had a pair of wraparound lenses, so I have improved peripheral vision while wearing them. The first couple of times I wore them, it did take a little while for my eyes to adjust to the optics of the lenses, but this was not a major issue. Since I was not happy with the various contact lenses I tried, I was wearing Glass over my normal prescription frames. This was slightly uncomfortable and meant I did not always have a complete view of the Glass prism. Since the new clip-on lenses firmly clip into the frame, there is no movement to distort the image.

7The clip-on lenses are also smaller than the lenses that came with the Glass device, which makes a big difference in their appearance. See the image below.9

JosephThe lenses were made by Joseph Haloua (left) in State College, PA. They are made from a military grade material called Trivex (which can be changed if your RX warrants it) that is almost as clear as optical glass. The material is ballistic which makes it very robust and perfect for drilling. A high quality antireflective treatment is added to the lenses to render the shield more scratch resistant than optical glass. UV protection is also included. The finished lenses come with a two-year warranty against accidental scratches.

Joseph is currently developing other shapes and progressive lenses to give people who need bifocals the usage of their Glass. Each of the clip-on lenses is unique, which is why the price ranges from $500 to $600. What I like most about what Joseph is doing is that he’s taken on the challenge that so many others did not. While prescription frames will become available from Rochester Optical in 2014, these frames will be missing that rogue edge. If you can wait until 2014, you may be able to purchase a new frame for Glass with prescription lenses for less than $500. However, if you are searching for an immediate solution, a pair of custom clip-on lenses is something to consider. I think Joseph would do what he can to accommodate your preferences in terms of treatments such as Transition(TM), prescription sunglasses (tinted or polarized), etc.

If you are interested in obtaining a pair of clip-on lenses, the process takes about two weeks from the time your clear shield is received. The clip-on lenses can be shipped globally if needed. When you contact Joseph (information below), you will need to provide him with your prescription and the distance between your eyes.

I collected my new lenses last week during Dr. Jacobs’ Annual Trunk Show and Local Charity Fundraiser. I have included a few pictures from the event below. I have also included a video in which Dr. Jacobs says a few words about the lenses.

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Moss Arts Center – Open House

3This afternoon, I wore my Google Glass device to the open house for VT’s new, and I must say rather amazing, Moss Arts Center. The 150,000-square-foot facility is designed to bring creativity, art, and technology together under one roof. The facility has a 1,260-seat performance hall, visual arts galleries, amphitheater, four-story experimental Cube, and multiple studios. The potential of this facility is immense and I’m already thinking about one or two new collaborations in the area of policy informatics that such a facility will enable.

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While walking around the open house, I had the opportunity to speak with Ben Knapp, the Director of the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT). Ben was one of three colleagues who I recently invited to join the VT Google Glass team. The team now consists of Peter Sforza, Brian Mathews, Tom Sanchez, Troy Abel, Ico Bukvic, Ben Knapp, and myself. [If the Glass XE team is reading this post, I have another three colleagues waiting in the wings to join our growing team of explorers 😉 One of these individuals is shown in the second video below.] While talking with Ben, we discussed how his research into the study of human emotion could be linked to my use of Glass in the classroom. There is a ‘hint’ of this new Glass application in the video below. With the addition of an Android/Glass programmer to our team in the near future, I’m keen to see how we can turn this idea/concept into a testable platform.

I first came across Google Glass while undertaking a New Media seminar at Virginia Tech. One of the great things about the seminar was getting to know faculty from across the university. One of my fellow seminarians was Joycelyn Wilson, who I also met during the open house. I asked Joycelyn to say a few words about her digital archiving project in which she is working to document over 4,000 vinyl records among other music-related items. During the video below, I asked Joycelyn how she would use Glass if I were given an additional three Glass invitations.