About Eric

Eric Wignall is an educator, designed and media developer. He is currently Vice President for Enrollment Management at Ancilla College and has served in faculty and administrative roles at four universities including Purdue University Calumet, Governors State and Valparaiso University.

Small course group build consortium in 2U

Another group of colleges have joined forces to offer online courses. Students enrolled at any of the 10 colleges campuses can take online courses from the shared system for credit at their primary or ‘home’ school.

Every member of the group has agreed to offer four-month-long online courses using software from 2U. 2U was founded in 2008 as 2tor by John Katzman and a group of developers.

Their approach is almost the opposite of a MOOC. These online courses, while offered to a wide geographic area, will be seminar-like online courses. The colleges are using 2U’s software to provide a platform for online courses capped at 20 students each.

Students already attending the institutions can earn credit from any college in the group, while students who are not enrolled at those colleges can apply to take the courses.

Universities in the consortium include:

  • Brandeis University
  • Duke University
  • Emory University
  • Northwestern University
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Notre Dame
  • University of Rochester
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Wake Forest University
  • Washington University in St. Louis

More here.

Conference: Symposium for Emerging Technologies for Online Learning

The 6th Annual International Symposium for Emerging Technologies for Online Learning will be held April 9-11, 2013 at the Planet Hollywood Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The conference centers on emerging and innovative uses of technology designed to improve teaching and learning online. Tracks for this year’s conference include Learning Spaces and Communities, Open and Accessible Learning, Evidence-based Learning, Faculty and Student Development, and Innovative Media and Tools. 

The conference is taking the unusual step this year of offering a free webinar on creating and writing the proposal for people interested in presenting at the conference.

The webinar is planned for November 29, 2012 – 3 pm to 4 pm. Click here to register for: 5 Tips on How to Submit a Successful Conference Proposal

Educators submit, and conference committees evaluate, hundreds of proposals in order to create a robust program for conference attendees. The number of proposals accepted for a conference depends on program size, topics covered and quality of abstracts submitted. This free webinar will include experts on the Sloan Consortium Conference Team and describe what they are looking for in proposal submissions.

World Conference on Open and Distance Education 2013

25th ICDE World Conference in China

The 25th ICDE World Conference will be hosted by Tianjin Open University, China, on 16-18 October 2013. Tianjin is a coastal city approximately 120 km from Beijing.

The World Conference attracts delegates from around the globe representing the research community, teaching staff, management of educational institutions, the public sector, and both training companies and suppliers from the private sector.The ICDE World Conference on Open and Distance Education is widely recognized as the leading world event in open and distance education and offers a forum for the presentation of cutting edge developments, network building, and professional development.

Main theme:

New Strategies for Global Open, Flexible and Distance Learning


1. The Culture of ODL
2. Quality in ODL
3. Educational Technology in ODL
4. OER in ODL
5. Learning Support in ODL
6. The Regulatory Environment and Strategies for Innovative Open and Distance Learning
7. Assisted Learning

ACE looks at usefulness of MOOCs

The American Council on Education will review a number of online courses offered by major US universities as part of a pilot project, funded by the Gates Foundation to look at the quality and use of massive open online courses as part of the ACE’s College Credit Recommendation Service.

According to a statement on the ACE website the project is looking at Coursera MOOCs that “can help raise degree completion, deepen college curricula and increase learning productivity.”

ACE is not an accrediting agency in any traditional sense. The group is a lobby group for higher education and offers professional development and information services for college and university leaders at over 100 institutions.

Marzano’s Excellence in Teaching

On Excellence in Teaching is an excellent collection of teaching and learning reviews and research.

On Excellence in Teaching was edited by Dr. Robert J. Marzano, a leading researcher, author and faculty development presenter. Marzano has written more than 30 books and 150 articles on topics such as instruction, assessment, educational standards, educational leadership and school improvement.

Marzano gathered the recommendations of educational researchers, theorists and professional developers on effective instruction. The results provides a wide-ranging discussion of teaching strategies and effective practices across several different educational contexts.

Marzano includes his own perspective with fifteen contributors. Theories of Excellence, the first section, describes and develops the core concept of quality and excellence in teaching. The second section, Systemic Excellence, provides a selection of specific innovations in educational organizations (level, school and district-wide). The third section, Classroom Excellence, addresses a list of practices that teachers can adopt and adapt in their classrooms. This organizational approach lets you dip back into the book, search through references, and find detailed approaches that are useful and evidence-based.

Teaching 9-11

The mere mention of this topic brings many people up short. Conversations stop. Voices get quieter and people seem to suffer from a rush of memory—powerful, awful, questioning, and even angry responses are provoked by 9-11. Teaching about the events and issue surrounding 9-11 can seem like a trap. You may want to bring it up, but what parts? And to what end? What’s a learning objective for a presentation and conversation about 9-11?

The topics can range as far as any of us can imagine: What were the historical elements of the attacks, from the use of terrorism throughout modern history to the basic events of that day? What was the social impact of the attacks, on families, co-workers, in New York, or in the lives of people grounded for days after the attacks? What were the economic implications? How would you compare (fill-in-the-blank) political issue in the local/country/world before and after Sept. 11th?  What were the management implications of the response and aftermath in New York, from the first responders on the scenes to the rebuilding of the Pentagon and 1 World Trade Center?  You can, with little prompting, come up with a dozen such topics even within the narrowest of discipline-related focuses. Use any prism, from music to microbiology, and you can probably come up with a related discussion.

But a key aspect of teaching about such a horrific incident is the basic data of the event. It’s very likely that much of what your students know of 9-11 is factually confused or just plain wrong. There are many different reasons for this, but the most obvious is the simple passage of time between then and now. Most college freshmen are 18 or 19 years old. How much did those 8 or 9-year-olds see or experience that day? Where were you ten years ago?

The assumption we may have about shared knowledge of a such a dramatic, global event—that everyone has heard and learned the same basic information about 9-11—is a faulty assumption. Conspiracy theories, half-remembered information, portions and pieces of television or movie images, and simple forgetfulness all work against accurate knowledge. It’s worth your time to teach about 9-11 because it’s worth learning more about it.

The attacks of September 11th were covered by the world’s media, and while that may seem to be a boon to teachers it brings with it some fundamental problems. First, presenting information of such a tragic and violent event needs to be done more carefully than other events. There is a psychological barrier between students in a history course seeing grainy black and white images of the dead from Gettysburg or the trenches of World War One. There is no barrier between them and the sights and sounds of planes crashing—planes very similar to ones they have flown on– and the gut-wrenching images of bodies falling from the twin towers. No matter how horrible a historical event may have been, students have a distance between those times and their own experiences. That distance does not exist between today and that day 10 years ago.

Second, there is a problem teaching about 9-11 with which teachers are utterly unfamiliar. There’s too much content. The attacks of Sept. 11th were filmed by cell phones, blogged about, written about, and covered by the global media, and they are being re-reported and covered again today. With so much media and information available, where do you start?

Some of the best, and easiest to navigate, media sites that are available without subscriptions can be linked to by copying and pasting a URL, or used in classrooms with a computer and data projector. These sites offer details without focusing on the more savage and violent imagery of that day. This is not a comprehensive list, but it is one based on publications with editorial staffs who paid attention to the details, and provided clear, fact-checked information.

The Telegraph, a global newspaper based in London, offers many different elements of 9-11 unified by solid writing and clear informational graphics. The website offers interactive graphics of the attacks, a timeline, and coverage of the many different political and social responses to the attacks.


The New York Times offers a very inclusive series of articles and graphics covering the events and locations of the attacks called The Reckoning.


One specific site from the Times is on the rebuilding in New York City and the memorial built on the scene:


The British Broadcasting Company does a similar, but not as comprehensive job recalling the events. The BBC site provides a simple chronology and stories related to the attacks but take care in navigating the site on screen in front of a class because there are some links and page layouts that include current events and news utterly unrelated to the attacks.


The History Channel’s online site offers excellent interactive and video-based materials covering the events leading up to and during the attacks.


Notably the History Channel, along with A&E, Lifetime and Biography channels, are simulcasting the incredibly powerful documentary 102 Minutes That Changed America. The documentary consists on clips from personal video recordings, news reports, and cell phone camera footage without narration, in real time. The 102 minutes of the attack unfolds as it happened. (This is heart-rending footage and it captures the shock and trauma exceptionally well. This is not a film for everyone, and viewer should be warned that it’s both graphic and real.)

The documentary will be aired on Sunday morning, 9/11 beginning when the attacks began unfolding, at 8:46 am Eastern time. A teacher’s guide to the documentary can be found here:


The Associated Press has a simple but very effective interactive site, Ten years later: A lasting impact on the world, up at: http://hosted.ap.org/interactives/2011/sept11-10years/index.html

Wikipedia does a fair job of putting the events, major ideas, topics, and individuals involved in one directory-style entry. As with all things in Wikipedia, let the reader beware as items get edited all day, every day. But the main page provides clear information in a useful summary.


You may well notice that none of the major US network news sites are mentioned here. With few exceptions the ‘anniversary coverage,’ a horrible term, and media provided by the networks (ABS, NBC, and CBS) is unexceptional. There are features and some limited footage of the attacks, but the major networks are currently offering very shallow website media.

CBS: http://www.cbs.com/shows/ten_years_later/

The US Public Broadcasting System has gathered video resources together from several of their own shows here:


OTO 34 Apps e-books and education

On Teaching Online podcast 34: Apps, e-books and education

Originally published 2/10/12

In this podcast I talk about the changing world of creating and publishing educational materials.



OTO 33 Evaluating online program quality with Dr. Kaye Shelton

On Teaching Online podcast 33: Evaluating online program quality with Dr. Kaye Shelton

Originally published 1/13/12

An interview with Dr. Kaye Shelton, Associate Professor at Lamar University, and author of A Quality Scorecard for the Administration of Online Education Programs: A Delphi study.

Teaching with zombies

teach with zombies

Can you go anywhere today without running across zombies?

Online classes suffer from the lack of deep but often unexamined visual cues, prompts, reminders, and social information– everything from the weather outside the windows to campus posters to the social conversations drifting around the space before a teacher starts the class. The online class can offer cues and point to ideas, but these need to be added and consciously built into the structure of the discussion, presentation, or activity. Your stern look and serious demeanor in next week’s review session is utterly missing from review documents posted to your course management system.

In a live discussion a student may refer to an announcement written on a whiteboard, or a campus event poster tacked on the wall. The reference is shared because everyone can see the cue. In an online discussion the student is writing a post, referring to context that may be utterly foreign to the other readers (students).

What can we refer to that has shared meaning?

When you talk with students about anything prior to last week you may get eye-rolling. Mention the Kennedy or Reagan eras and you might as well be talking about ancient Rome. Albums? Undergraduate students never purchased an album or a single, and may not have ever seen one. If you are of a certain age you will remember the end of MASH, the Johnny Carson show, the shuttle explosion, and all sorts of events that can be considered social shared events and what we used to call “touchstones.” The most recent is 9-11, a global event that created global awareness — a shared experience.

But a 19-year-old freshman would have been just 8 years old during that horrible day.

Our grandparents had many things tying them together, even when they may have come from different cultures. The experience of the Great Depression and World War 2 formed a foundation of memory for the entire world. Much of our present culture still revolves around those ideas in every aspect of life, from Hollywood movies to economic thinking. Those common experiences did not create a single culture, but they provided many of the visual and thematic vocabularies we have in our heads today.

Think of it this way, surveys and market research indicate that the biggest female ‘star’ of our present age is not Lady Gaga, Madonna, or a Kardashian but Marilyn Monroe– an actress who died 50 years ago. Marilyn’s image is immediately recognized by people in every part of the globe– so much so that we can use her first name as shorthand for glamour, sex appeal, or fame.

Other aspects of shared culture are slightly more serious, and refer to different types of shared ideas.

Our great-grandparents, and generations of students in North Americans schools, would recognize quotes and topics from the Bible. Post-colonial populations could reference Pilgrim’s Progress– a massive best-seller in early America that was used to preach and teach. Even the most unreligious of frontiersmen would understand references to the books of the Old Testament, King Solomon, and events of the New Testament because they were truly common ideas repeated and re-shared from childhood onward.

Today there are very few shared “texts” and fewer common ideas. We now live within a set of cultures with varied experiences. Where we once had many common language and event-related cues teachers now struggle with creating common ground. Ask a classroom of students what books they have “all” read lately and what is the response? War and Peace or Harry Potter?The Rights of Man or the Twilight vampire books?

But bring up zombies, and right there you have struck a common chord…

Zombies are big. They are more popular than ever, showing up in television shows, movies, and even advertisements. Use the term “zombie apocalypse” and every student will know what you mean, in a live or online class.

You should use zombies.

By “use” I obviously don’t suggest you try and reanimate the dead for educational uses– reanimating the dead is familiar ground to teachers, at least in intellectual terms. We try to reanimate students every semester in uncounted classrooms worldwide. No, here I’m suggesting you climb aboard the zombie train and use the idea for linking your subject to shared ideas. They can be used in math problems, population examples, statistics, and even political science (insert your own punchline here).

But seriously, the connection of a topic like the spread of disease in a health science or nursing course can be made a little more “lively” with the addition of a zombie example.

The real suggestion here is to create a context cue to share and refer back to when it is useful. It can create cognitive shortcuts for students and clear up the problem of getting lost online in discussions that do not have rich social cues. A non-zombie example could be any specific, targeted, shared contextual idea.


One of my math teachers, many years ago, made photocopies of a house plan and handed it out in class. We had to keep and refer to that plan in many homework problems and in-class discussions. (I still remember that house, a two-story suburban home with 2,180 square feet, because of the number of times I had to figure out square footage, roof angles, volumes, and other issues.) Cognitively speaking, I lived in that house for a full semester.

Long-running games: A powerful cognitive connector for social science courses is the use of a common context simulation. Dividing students up into teams, with each team representing a country, a company, or any other subject-related organization, is a simple way to link activities together over a semester. One example of this is in Model United Nations activities that link students to foreign policy roles. Each team represents a nation and must learn all they can about that country, its policies, economics, history, and international activities. Problem-solving games can be built on teams of students who represent the crews of ships, teams of emergency workers, nations in Napoleonic Europe, trading companies, or tribes of people during the end of the Roman Empire. With simple rules long-running games can be context-rich activities can play out during a course ‘in the background’ or as the driving metaphor for the course.

Biographies: A similar long-term activity is to associate students with important figures within your subject matter and come back from time to time to students for that person’s perspective or for presentations and discussions. In every subject, from mathematics to philosophy, students can build a rich awareness from exploring the key figures in that field.

Events: Building context with a historical event is easy and often leads to interesting perspectives from students from different social and cultural backgrounds. Transporting your math class aboard the Titanic, with instructions to save more passengers, or dropping your class into Shakespeare’s London can prompt rich interaction with ideas and online resources. It offers the obvious comparative experience between a student’s life and the lives of others, between expectations and assumptions, and between flat reading and viewing experiences with deeper, immersive digging into a different world.

Using zombies, or any other shared metaphor or experience, can prompt students to climb into other shoes and see the world from different perspectives. The metaphor can be somewhat silly or deadly serious, a small set-piece or an entire environment– it depends on your own knowledge and resources. With a well designed launch, complete with clear expectations and a solid activity format, students will often surprise you by finding new resources, making unexpected links to different subject matter, and by exploring subjects with rising enthusiasm.

Sometimes the undead are pretty useful.


OTO 32 New web teaching tools

On Teaching Online podcast 32: New web teaching tools

Originally published 1/5/12

In this podcast Staci and I talk about a variety of online collaborative tools that are getting better and being updated all the time: Bubbl.us, DebateGraph, VoiceThread, and Scribblar.

OTO 31 Coursekit.com social network and LMS with Joe Cohen

On Teaching Online podcast 31: Coursekit.com social network and LMS with Joe Cohen

Originally published 12/10/11

In this podcast Staci and I talk with Joe Cohen of what was then Coursekit.  Coursekit began as a free social media/learning management platform for courses that brings together easy-to-use instructor tools and familiar social networking features. Now renamed Lore, the service has expanded and added improvements to the interface, design elements, and tools.

Lore’s website.