Monthly Archives: February 2013

Disrupting Higher Education

Last Tuesday, I attended an international symposium on online higher education titled “Disrupting Higher Education.” It was somewhat random that I was even invited, but I had a wonderful time. I would say that five of the seven main presentations were excellent and memorable. In my world, that is unbelievably good.

The strangest thing about the symposium, particularly given the topic, is that it has no web page that I can find. It was claimed, though, that the presentations would be posted online and available as a podcast. I’ll follow up by email this week and, if I find anything, I’ll update this post. In the meantime, here’s a press release about the event, which does contain a link to the Provost of Trinity College’s1 prepared remarks2.

In this blog post, though, I want to mention two particular sources of inspiration to me from the day:

  1. Simon Bates gave a talk titled “Flipping the Classroom, Flipping the Culture.” I’ve known about active learning for a long time, and I’ve tried to incorporate it into my teaching to some extent. But I’ve always felt that I could and should do more. This talk gave me a model that I’m going to try the next time I teach undergraduates.3 This Prezi appears to be an earlier version of the same talk.4

  2. Audrey Watters, of the blog Hack Education, gave a talk titled “Who’s Education Data Is It?” It was an interesting talk, with lots of food for thought, and she put some of her thoughts on the subject in a Storify here. I enjoyed her talk, and I’m really glad that I found her blog, which distills a large amount of news and information into something that I can actually track. Watters also made a Storify which is currently probably the best available record of the symposium.

    But the moment of inspiration actually came in the panel at the end of the day. Someone asked about the relevance of the app/music/ebook marketplace to higher education. Some panelists riffed on iTunesU and then started down a tangent about tools and platforms. And then Watters said: “The web is the platform.” I’ve heard this a million times, so it shouldn’t have been profound. But for years I’ve been guilty of sticking my course content into our Sakai-based LMS because it’s so easy. I need to do better and liberate that content onto the web. And the next time I teach a course, I will try to do so.

  1. For my American readers, the Provost of Trinity College is the top university official, like the president of most American universities. He is also elected by the faculty for a fixed term, completely unlike the president of most American universities. 

  2. His remarks were quite interesting to me, also, but I didn’t count them in the seven. 

  3. My next teaching assignment will probably be a graduate course. I can’t figure out how to make this model work in a graduate course. Still thinking about that. 

  4. I usually dislike Prezi. But this one was pretty well done, I thought. Another one during the day (which backed a good talk, nonetheless) practically gave me motion sickness. 

Apple Maps

I have been something of a defender of Apple Maps. I think they’ve gotten a bit of a bad rap. The user interface is nice and the road data mostly seems okay. The point of interest data seems lacking, but I expect that it will improve over time.

Plus, I agree with Dr. Drang: Apple played hardball with Google and wound up getting most of what they wanted, in the form of a standalone Google Maps app, anyway.

But, I tried using the Apple Maps app a few times while traveling around rural Ireland last week, and searching is awful. To give the best example: On our way to County Cork, we stopped at the Rock of Cashel. The bathrooms there were being renovated—it is low season, to say the least. So, when we finished our visit, we wanted to find a restroom before getting back on the road. Near the parking lot, I saw a discarded McDonald’s cup. As an American, I instinctively associate McDonald’s with clean(ish) restrooms on road trips. And, while there aren’t many McDonald’s in Ireland, I thought maybe there was one in Cashel.

So, I pull out my phone, open the Apple Maps app, and type McDonald’s in the search box. And the first result? A McDonald’s in Cashel, Ontario, Canada, 3200 miles away. No, I am not kidding. This is not a point of interest problem. This is a search problem.

As it turns out, there is a McDonald’s in Cashel, Ireland, but Google Maps didn’t find it, either. At least Google Maps suggested a few in Ireland, though, including the next closest location, about 12 miles away (but not on our route). As for us, we stopped at a gas station, where the bathrooms were cleaner than you’ll find in most American gas stations, anyway.


When I started writing about my sabbatical in Dublin, I thought that I would blog (often!) about how things were different here in Europe/Ireland than they are in the U.S. I quickly realized, though, that many of the differences that I saw were more from living in a city (as contrasted with Blacksburg) than from living in another country. Yet, to my experience, there’s not a U.S. city of similar size (metro population of 1.8 million) that is anywhere near as compact as Dublin. My experiences of New York City give a somewhat similar feel of density, especially Brooklyn and Queens. (Dublin is not a vertical city—I hear the geology is wrong—so it is incomparable with Manhattan.) But NYC has a metro population of 18.9 million, more than ten times the size.

I pointed this out to a colleague, though, and he said (paraphrasing): “Your perception is also skewed by the fact that you are on sabbatical. I live in Boston. I did a sabbatical in Minneapolis one year. By every measure, Boston is a better city. And yet, my memories of Minneapolis—working at 80% capacity, spending more time with my family, …” At that point he trailed off and audibly sighed.

So, perhaps I see the world here through rose colored glasses. I am in love with this city, though. And we certainly see differences between the U.S. and Ireland, especially having now traveled a bit in more rural Ireland, too, but they are complex and nuanced and hard to blog about without stereotyping or overgeneralizing.

No, this isn’t really the reason that I haven’t posted more often. I won’t make excuses or promises, but I have a measurable goal that I think is achievable. So, I expect to do better.