Derek Bruff

Author of Teaching with Classroom Response Systems

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A New Blog, More or Less

Syndicated from Teaching with Classroom Response Systems

Short Version: I’ve consolidated my two blogs ( and into a single blog that I’m calling Agile Learning. Look for new blog posts there, not here, and update your RSS reader accordingly. Long Version: I started blogging back in 2008 with a blog focused on teaching with classroom response systems (“clickers”). I had just finished writing my book on that subject, and I wanted to continue exploring the topic. The blog gave me a venue for doing so, one that invited colleagues new and old to share ideas and perspectives. After two years of blogging about almost nothing but classroom response systems, I found myself wanting to write about different topics, so I set up a separate blog where I could write about other topics that interested me. Over time, I found myself blogging less frequently about classroom response systems, and I found managing two separate blogs to be more trouble than it was worth. Moreover, I’ve been wanting to switch Web hosts for a while now. So I’m combining the two blogs into a single blog, Agile Learning, on my new Web host with a new domain name, All my old blogs posts have been imported to new site, including all 219 posts from the “Teaching with Classroom Response System” blog. You’ll also find posts on other kinds of educational technology, visual thinking, student motivation, faculty development, how people learn, social media, and more. Why the switch from .com to .org? Mostly because it made the Web host switch a lot easier, although I’ll admit I was influenced by the fact that three-quarters of the Digital Campus podcast crew uses .org domains. What’s not yet on the new blog? Links in old blog posts still point to I’ll keep live for at least a few more weeks, but it will eventually just mirror Also, many of the hundred-or-so categories I’ve been using on the clickers blog have been converted to tags, and I haven’t added a tag cloud to the new site yet. And there’s some non-blog content on that needs to get moved over to the .org site. I’ll work on these tasks as I have time. For more on the new site, including the reason for the name “Agile Learning” and some comments on its layout, check out the new site’s About page. And if you notice anything wonky about the new site, please let me know. Image: “Moving Day,” Heather Weaver, Flickr (CC)

The Twitter Backchannel at #CIRTLForum

Here’s a quick analysis of the Twitter backchannel at the CIRTL Network Forum. As of 10:10 am this morning, the #CIRTLForum Twitter stream included 679 tweets from 56 unique individuals, including at least six who weren’t physically at the Forum. Here’s a list of the most frequent contributors, by Twitter handle:
Twitter User Number of Tweets
derekbruff 114
sarahmilleruw 103
GinaSpitzUW 64
PeterC_UW 61
rkniemer 43
GinaSpitz 38
iTeach4NE 34
sciencegeekgirl 28
drhmw 26
DebRookPaleo 24
BrentABerger 16
cirtlnetwork 15
celetkewicz 14
scientificteach 10
robingreenler 10
And here’s a word cloud (generated by Wordle) of those 679 tweets: Click on the image to see a larger version. Thanks to all those who contributed to (or just lurked within) the backchannel! It was incredibly robust for a relatively small conference.  

Symphony Academy: Awakening the Digital Imagination (Sketchnotes from #CIRTLForum)

Gardner Campbell delivered tonight’s keynote at the CIRTL Network Forum. All day, we’ve been discussing the competencies and critical skills that STEM grad students and postdocs need to develop for future teaching roles. It’s good work and important work, but difficult work. Gardner’s talk, “Symphony Academy: Awakening the Digital Imagination” provided, for me at least, a much needed reminder of why we’re in this business of preparing future faculty. Our students, and the future students of the grad students and postdocs we mentor, are capable of deep and profound learning, particularly when they use digital tools to explore their interests, connect with each other and with others around the globe, and situate their experiences in contexts that have meaning for them. It’s no easy task to create learning environments that foster this kind of learning, but I think the ideas and examples that Gardner shared with us tonight point us in the right direction. I’m not up to the task of summarizing Gardner’s talk. I believe it was captured on video, so hopefully you’ll be able to watch it on the CIRTL website soon. In the meantime, here are my sketchnotes from the keynote that, hopefully, provide a sense of what Gardner shared. Click on the images to see larger versions.  

Learning-through-Diversity at the #CIRTLForum

I’m facilitating a workshop on learning-through-diversity at the CIRTL Network Forum later today. The workshop is titled “Leveraging Diversity: The Wisdom of Crowds in University Teaching.” Here’s the abstract: Our students bring a rich array of knowledge, skills, experiences, perspectives, interests, and values to our courses.  We often recognize the value of leveraging diversity in solving research problems, but leveraging student diversity in the classroom can be difficult, even when doing so is valued.  In this session, we’ll explore some ideas and principles for doing so, drawing on examples of effective crowdsourcing for inspiration. The workshop draws on themes and content I’ve been exploring in a few talks over the last six months. I’m trying out a new crowdsourcing activity within the workshop today. Hopefully it will go well. Here’s the Prezi I’ll be using. All the links you see are live, so click on them for more information. I’d love to hear your ideas (in the comments below) for leveraging the diversity present in your classrooms.

A Few Favorite Blogs about Visual Thinking

Let’s take a break from thinking about Facebook, shall we? Recently I shared some of my favorite teaching blogs and technology blogs. Today, some blogs about visual thinking:
  • FlowingData –  Nathan Yau’s blog is an impressive collection of data visualizations from around the Web. Yau is a PhD student in statistics at UCLA with a focus on data visualization, and he shares his many data visualization projects on his blog, too. Blogging led to his book, Visualize This, a practical guide to creating data visualizations that I’ll get around to buying one of these days.
  • Information Is Beautiful – David McCandless is a data journalist, information designer, and author of The Visual Miscellaneum (known as Information Is Beautiful in the UK). On his blog, McCandless shares his data visualizations, such as this interactive “balloon race” visualization of the scientific evidence for popular health supplements.
  • Cartastrophe – Daniel Huffman’s Cartastrophe blog is not only cleverly named, but also a great source of critical thinking about how maps are used and made. Huffman posts very insightful critiques of poorly made maps, critiques that have helped me better understand how people make sense of visual information. Huffman maintains a second blog, somethingaboutmaps, that’s also worth a follow.
  • Geospatial Technologies in Education – Speaking of maps, Meg Stewart runs an interesting blog on the use of GIS and other geospatial tech in higher education. Her co-authored EDUCAUSE Quarterly paper, “The Educational Potential of Mobile Computing in the Field,” caught my eye earlier this year, and I’ve been reading her blog ever since. I particularly appreciate the education angle in her posts.
  • Presentation Zen – Although I may disagree with him on the potential for digital engagement tools in the classroom, I’m still a huge Garr Reynolds fan. His book, Presentation Zen, radically transformed how I approach presentations, particularly in the use of visuals. He blogs about effective presentations, taking a big-tent approach to sources of inspiration.
  • Tufte Kitten Kill Count – This brand new blog by John Graham-Cunning is based on a joke by Mark Goetz that “every time you make a PowerPoint, Edward Tufte kills a kitten.” Tufte, author of The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and other books, is an information designer with a public antipathy toward PowerPoint. Graham-Cunning’s blog features reader-submitted examples of poor PowerPoint design with each rated on a scale of 1 to 5 dead kittens. Funny and educational at the same time.
  • Sketchnote Army – Created and curated by Mike Rodhe and Binaebi Akah, respectively, this blog features “sketchnotes,” visual notes taken by people at conference and educational experiences all over the world. Most people take notes by writing down words in a linear fashion. Others take advantage of the fact that we’re all visual learners and use words and pictures.
  • Alphachimp Studio – Right here in Nashville, we’re fortunate to have some of the best visual notetakers in the world. Alphachimp Studio is a “visual learning company” whose consultants provide graphic facilitation, “doodles in motion,” visual innovation training, and event planning services. We recently employed them to take visual notes at our 25th anniversary symposium, and their notes were a huge hit among participants. The Alphachimp blog features examples of their work, graphic facilitation resources from around the Web, and information about their hit online training classes.
What about you? What are your favorite visual thinking blogs?

The New Facebook, Day Four

In my last post, I tried to make sense of why the changes Facebook made to its news feed Tuesday night bothered me. The short version? I don’t want my relationships with my friends managed by Facebook’s algorithms, I want to manage those relationships directly. Someone named Michael commented on that post, saying the following:
“Don’t like the Facebook algorithms? SCROLL DOWN! Your chronological news feed is still there, down below it.”
I’m not sure why Michael broke out the all caps for this, but if he’s right, if the (reverse) chronological news feed is still available, below the “top stories” the Facebook algorithms have selected for me, then I would certainly feel better about using Facebook. I’m pretty sure Michael wasn’t right Tuesday night, when the new news feed was rolled out. But I knew that Facebook often tinkers with new features after they’ve been debuted, so perhaps Michael was now correct and I didn’t have to worry so much about Facebook’s algorithms messing up my news feed. I decided to avoid Facebook for 24 hours, then login and see what the news feed looked like. I’ve just done so, and here’s what I found: The “recent stories” found beneath the “top stories” don’t include everything my friends have posted, just most things. And what the “recent stories” leave out seems to be at least somewhat predictable. First, here’s a screenshot of what I saw when I opened Facebook after 24 hours away:

I’m told that there have been seven “top stories” since my last visit and that more than 100 more stories are available below the top stories. See that notification on the right? It says, “Your recent stories are now easier to get to. Click or scroll down to see the rest of what’s news.” That wasn’t there the other day, and I’m guessing Facebook added that feature and the notification about it in response to the backlash about the new news feed. Good for them. It certainly clarifies how the new news feed works. Algorithmically selected content appears at the top of the news feed, and everything else (in theory) appears below. Michael will be glad to know that you don’t even have to scroll down, you can just click the “100+ More Recent Stories” to jump down and see them.

So far, I’m seeing a much more intuitive approach to combining the “top stories” and “most recent” views of the news feed. But I wondered if the “recent stories” below the “top stories” really included everything recent from my friends. So I pulled up my Facebook news feed on my Droid using the TweetDeck app and compared that version of my news feed with the “recent stories” on What did I find?

  • Most stories appeared in both places.
  • Maybe 8 to 10 stories appeared on but not in the TweetDeck app.
  • Only four recent stories appeared on the TweetDeck app but not on
What were the four stories that were missing on
  • Two were posts by Facebook pages that I’ve “liked,” Vanderbilt University and the movie Jurassic Park.
  • One was another page-related story, a recommendation a friend of mine wrote for a local business, Franklin Creative Suite. (I didn’t know you could write recommendations for Facebook pages, but perhaps that feature is new this week, too.)
  • The fourth was a post from a friend of mine that Facebook had placed in the “top stories” section at the top of the news feed.
So what does the “recent stories” section of the news feed miss? Posts from some, but not all, pages I’ve liked. Certain kinds of stories, like a recommendation for a page. And anything already in the “top stories” section. The latter omission is the one that bothers me the most. Since “top stories” aren’t included in “recent stories,” if I want to see everything my friends are posting on Facebook, I need to read through both sections, which means I can’t read all stories in reverse chronological order after all. The “top stories” appear out of chronological order. If I head straight for the “recent stories” section (by clicking or scrolling), I’ll miss the posts that Facebook things I’ll be most interested in. Consequently, my original concern about Facebook’s algorithms managing how I interact with my friends on Facebook still stands, although the algorithms aren’t messing with things as much as I had feared (or as much as they were actually doing Tuesday night). I can see all of my friends’ posts (except ones in certain categories, like recommendations) by reading through “top stories” and “recent stories,” although I can’t see them all in order. However, I’m still not a fan of the changes, for the following reasons:
  • Although I’m likely to read beyond the “top stories” to see all my friends’ posts, not everyone will. And so my concern that many people will be experiencing Facebook through filter bubbles still stands. There were people using the “top stories” view of the news feed before the changes, and there will be people relying on “top stories” in the new Facebook. Do those people understand what kind of trust they’re placing in Facebook’s algorithms? Do they realize that they may miss important stories on Facebook because of those algorithms?
  • When I access Facebook through third-party apps, like TweetDeck, I can’t be sure I’m getting everything. The changes to the news feed mean that TweetDeck, at least, is missing a fair number of posts. Sure, I could use the official Facebook app on my Droid. I’m guessing it works just like now. But I prefer TweetDeck. And now I’m wary of accessing any Facebook content outside of itself. This makes sense given what I know of Facebook’s business plan; they want me to spend as much time on as possible so they can serve me more ads.
It’s also possible that the “recent stories” section of the news feed does not, in fact, show everything from one’s friends if one has, say, over a thousand Facebook friends. I only have 347 (down from 348 earlier in the week after one friend quit Facebook entirely), so I can’t test how “recent stories” works for those with many more friends than me. If the news feed changes were the only changes announced by Facebook this week, I might be happy to adapt my reading habits to the “top stories” / “recent stories” news feed and keep using Facebook. However, I also saw Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote at the F8 event on Thursday, where he announced other new Facebook features, such as the timeline and new kinds of app integration. That keynote has just about convinced me to stop using Facebook altogether. More on that later. Image: “Stacked,” Saxon Moseley, Flickr (CC)

What Happened to Facebook? And Why Does It Bother Me So Much?

If you’ve been on any of the usual social networks today, you’ve heard that Facebook has made some changes to its news feed that have frustrated a lot of Facebook users. I’m one of those frustrated users, but I’ve heard enough people ask “What’s the big deal?” to start to wonder why these changes bother me so much. More on that in a bit. First, a summary of the changes:
  • When you log into Facebook, the main thing you see is your news feed. This is a stream of posts, photos, links, and other items shared on Facebook by your Facebook friends. Prior to last night, the news feed had two modes: “top news” and “most recent.” In “top news” mode, you saw a selection of items shared by your friends, a selection determined by Facebook’s algorithms. How those algorithms worked wasn’t made public by Facebook, but they seemed to prioritize items shared by Facebook friends with whom you interact regularly, by commenting on or liking their posts. In “most recent” mode, you saw all items shared by your friends, in reverse chronological order, with the most recent items at the top.
  • Last night, Facebook rolled out changes that combined these two modes, with an emphasis on the algorithms. Now in your news feed, you see “top stories” (Facebook calls them stories now, not posts) that Facebook thinks you’ll find interesting. Again, it’s not clear how Facebook’s algorithms guess what you’ll find interesting, but the idea is that no matter how long it has been since you logged in (minutes or weeks or something in between), you’ll see a selection of “stories” that you missed while you were away, in theory the “stories” you’ll find most interesting.
  • Although the “most recent” option for the news feed has been taken away, Facebook added a “ticker” over on the right sidebar that displays, in real-time, everything your friends are doing on the site: sharing stories, liking stories, commenting on stories, and so on. The ticker updates automatically, and (in theory) includes everything that every one of your friends is doing, so it functions similarly to the “most recent” mode of the old news feed.
Facebook has made some other changes recently, like adding automatically created lists of friends and allow people to “subscribe” to other people’s posts without friending them, but it’s the news feed changes that bug me the most. Why is that? As I mentioned recently, I’m big on “input.” I follow a lot of blogs, listen to a lot of podcasts, and spend a fair amount of time on Twitter. That’s how I learn about new ideas, find new resources, and discover new perspectives. I take the same approach to each of those sources in that I read or listen to the oldest items in the “stream” first and work my way to the latest items in chronological order. This probably strikes some people as odd, since there are many who just dip into their Twitter feeds as time allows to read the latest tweets. I don’t, for the most part. There’s something about missing a tweet or a blog post or a podcast episode that I don’t like. The latest tweet / post / episode was created by someone who experienced those earlier tweets / posts / episodes, so if I skip that older content, I might not have sufficient context for understanding the newer content. It’s a bit like missing a few episodes of a TV show like 24 or Fringe; you want to catch up on the episodes you missed, not just see the newest one. I’ve used Facebook in the same way, typically reading my Facebook friends’ posts in chronological order. I couldn’t always keep up, since I rarely check Facebook during the work day. I would often check after work and “fast forward” to the latest posts. And that’s one thing that bothers me about the new Facebook news feed: I’ve lost the ability to read everything, in chronological order. Facebook has taken that option out of my hands. I can’t access Facebook content in the way I prefer to do so, and I have less control than I did within the world of Facebook before the changes. Where has that control gone? It’s been given to Facebook’s algorithms, the ones that guess which of my friends’ stories I’ll be most interested in seeing at any given time. I don’t trust the algorithms, and I’m not the only one. Eli Pariser has a new book out, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You, in which he explores our increasing reliance on algorithms to filter the massive amount of content we can access through the Internet. When you search for something on Google, you’re trusting Google’s algorithms to return the most useful and relevant content. Google’s algorithms are incredible, but they’re still returning certain results and not showing you other possible results. You have to trust those algorithms to give you meaningful results. I’m not arguing that you shouldn’t use Google to find useful content among the billions of pages on the Internet, and I don’t think Pariser is, either. But it’s important to know that the algorithms you use have inherent biases. The example Pariser often cites is how the “top news” mode of his Facebook news feed stopped showing him posts by his conservative friends. Facebook’s algorithms had noticed that Pariser interacted more (commenting, liking) with posts from his liberal-learning friends, so the “top news” view started showing him just those posts. He had been placed in a “filter bubble,” where certain opinions and perspectives were hidden from him by Facebook’s algorithms. The “filter bubble” isn’t a big problem if you know it’s there and can change your behavior so as to mitigate its effects. For instance, Pariser could start commenting on and liking his conservative friend’s Facebook posts. That would teach the algorithms that he finds them interesting, and they’d start appearing in his news feed.  Of course, Pariser might not want to “like” certain opinions expressed by his friends, but Facebook doesn’t give us other quick ways to mark a post as interesting. As Pariser often says, there’s a “like” button, but no “important” or “interesting” button. The terms Facebook has chosen for its interactions make it challenging to fight the filter bubble. The big problem is that many people don’t realize they’re in filter bubbles and, as a result, they don’t know what they’re missing. Consider the implications of this. There are many people who get most of their news through Facebook, through the links posted by their Facebook friends and the pages they’ve “liked.” Might their views of the world be incomplete if Facebook’s algorithms filter out certain perspectives or topics? It’s not that the algorithms target particular political views or categories of news, it’s that people might not interact with such posts (through commenting or liking) often enough for the algorithm to consider them of possible interest. Without knowing you’re in a filter bubble and working to break outside of that bubble occasionally, you run the risk of ending up in an echo chamber, not exposing yourself to new ideas and perspectives. Algorithms aren’t all to blame for the echo chamber effect. As Ethan Zuckerman argues in this TED talk, we very often choose to follow / friend / like people who have similar perspectives to ours. In other words, most of us put ourselves in echo chambers more than we’d like to admit. How many of your Facebook friends have political views very different from yours? But when algorithms put us in filter bubbles, and thus echo chambers, without us knowing it? That’s a big problem. And with the “most recent” mode of the Facebook news feed no longer available, everyone using Facebook has now been put inside a filter bubble. In short, I don’t trust the algorithms. They’re hiding content from my Facebook friends from me, and I don’t know if they’re making good choices when they do so. I would much rather see all the content from my friends, whether I interact with that content or not.  Facebook has made that much more difficult now. What am I missing that the algorithms aren’t showing me? I have friends whose posts I always read, although I rarely interact with those posts. How will the algorithms know that I value those posts? I don’t want my relationships with my friends managed by Facebook’s algorithms, I want to manage those relationships directly. Moreover, Facebook’s algorithms are hiding my content from my friends, in ways over which I have no control. Just as I’d like to control how I access my friends’ content, without interference by the algorithms, I would like my friends to control what they see from me. Why should Facebook stand in the way of that? So what is there to do? I could leave Facebook. There’s nothing stopping me, right? Certainly, Google+ is looking like a more user-friendly social networking site now, and it’s quite possible that these news feed changes on Facebook will lead to a migration of Facebook users over to Google+. But, frankly, most of my friends are on Facebook, and relatively few of them are on Google+. I have friends from high school and college and church and work that are all over the world now. I use Facebook to maintain these relationships. Leaving Facebook would mean severing ties with many people I still like very much. Sure, that’s how things worked before Facebook came along, but now that I’ve experienced the benefits of maintaining connections with old friends through Facebook, walking away from all those friends would be a real loss. And, really, if my beef is that the new news feed makes it more difficult to see what my friends are posting, leaving Facebook—and thus not seeing any of their posts—doesn’t really seem like a solution. In summary, I’m invested in Facebook since so many of my friends are there. I want to see everything that those friends share on Facebook, with the option of doing so in chronological order. I want control over how I access content within Facebook. I want my Facebook friends to control how they access my content. I don’t want to cede that control over to the algorithms whose decisions don’t always align with mine. And I don’t want the millions of Facebook users to end up in filter bubbles created by those algorithms. Given the key role that Facebook plays in our local and global communities, I think it’s appropriate that Facebook is accountable to those communities, not just to the advertisers who are paying to be seen by members of those communities. It’s true that when you’re on Facebook, you’re not having lunch, you are the lunch. (That is, Facebook is serving up our attention to its advertisers.) And while a restaurant might not care if the hamburger complains about the service, we aren’t hamburgers. We’re what makes Facebook a place worth visiting. And if Facebook isn’t responsive to our concerns about the ways they treat us, then that’s a problem. Image: “sky-net,” Hani Amir, Flickr (CC)

A Few Favorite Blogs about (Educational) Technology

The other day, I shared a few of my favorite teaching blogs. Today, some blogs about technology, mostly in the service of teaching:
  • Cyberpop! – After following her on her blog and on Twitter for months, I finally met Sidneyeve Matrix at a conference this summer. She was just the bundle of energy and ideas that I thought she would be. She describes her blog as a “digital culture trendwatch,” and it’s a great source of insight into how young adults use social media, mobile devices, and other digital tools, with an eye towards applications to college teaching.
  • Social Media in Higher Education – Rey Junco is a forward-looking researcher who studies social media and its uses in academic and student affairs contexts within higher ed. If for no other reason, his blog is worth following so you’ll know when he publishes a new study, likely one to be widely cited in the future.
  • technosociology – Zeynep Tufekci recently moved to the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She, too, studies social media, but focuses on its intersection with politics and culture. I found her blog when someone tweeted a link to her amazingly smart post on Twitter’s oral culture. Since then, I’ve found her thoughts on social media’s role in the “Arab spring” particularly insightful.
  • The History 2.0 Classroom – When people ask me to recommend a high school teacher using technology in creative and innovative ways, Greg Kulowiec is the person I recommend. His blog is full of clever and useful ideas for the high school history classroom, most of which leverage students’ own technology (their cell phones) or use free online services.
  • ProfHacker – This is a fantastic group blog hosted at the Chronicle of Higher Education edited by George H. Williams and Jason B. Jones. I’ve contributed guest blog posts from time to time. Not all of their posts are focused on technology, but many are. It’s a great source of ideas and advice for any faculty member.
  • Duke’s Center for Instructional Technology – The educational technologists at CIT are busy people, working with faculty across campus on a variety of projects. They like to share the results of those projects on their blog, making the blog a great place to go to see how innovative faculty and staff are making use of tech.
  • CNDLS Labs – Meanwhile, the good folks at the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) at Georgetown University are… doing much the same thing. And so their blog is another great source of creative educational technology use.
  • NspiredD2 – The Kaneb Center at Notre Dame University is another teaching center with a strong technology focus. Chris Clark writes for their blog, and he’s always posting links to useful resources, creative ideas, and thoughts about educational technology.
  • Techne – The National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE) has a blog that, not surprisingly, focuses on the use of educational technology in the liberal arts, particularly at small colleges. Frequent topics include digital humanities, course management systems, and predicting the future of tech in higher ed.
What are your favorite technology blogs? Image: “Luminous Idea,” Tiego Daniel, Flickr (CC)

A Few Favorite Blogs about Teaching