Social Media Ethics and Law

social media law I'm working on a presentation titled "Social Media Ethics and Law" to be given at the NJEDge.Net Annual Conference (Princeton, NJ) in later this month. That is also the title of a a course that I have in development.

Social media is redefining the relationships between organizations and their audiences, and it introduces new ethical, privacy and legal issues. The audience for my presentation is schools, primarily higher education, but this topic is one that is unfortunately not given a lot of attention for many organizations. Educating employees about responsible use in the organization and also as individual users is necessary. We need to have a better understanding of the ethics, and also the law, as it applies in these new contexts.

To use a clichéd disclaimer, I am not a lawyer, and my focus will be more on ethics, but at some point ethics bumps up against law. Pre-existing media law about copyright and fair use was not written with social media in mind, so changes and interpretations are necessary.

Technological advances blur the lines of what is or is not allowed to be published and shared and issues of accuracy, privacy and trust. A obvious example is the reuse of images found online. Many people feel that the Millennial and Generation Z individuals in particular have grown up with a copy/paste, download-it-for-free ethos that can easily lead to legal violations online as students and later as employees.

Coding as a (second) Language


There is global interest in teaching programming in schools. Initiatives that come from outside education, like, which is backed by Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, are trying to get more students learning a second (or third) language, but it's not one that is spoken. But I also see a backlash of those who say that writing code is a terrible way for humans to instruct computers and that newer technology may render programming languages "about as useful as Latin."

I support some middle ground. Teaching some coding as part of regular language study in English and world language classes.

This week I am giving a presentation at the NJEDge.Net Faculty Best Practices Showcase that I titled "Code as a (second) Language." It's not about becoming a programmer. Learning about code, like learning about grammar, is about understanding how a system of communication works below the surface.

There are several "computer science, meets humanities" programs. One is at Stanford University, which offers a new major there called CS+X  which is a middle ground between computer science and any of 14 disciplines in the humanities, including history, art, and classics. 

What are the cognitive advantages to learning a second language? Learning any system of signs, symbols and rules used to communicate improves thinking by challenging the brain to: recognize & negotiate meaning, work within structures and rules, and master different language patterns.

As a longtime language teacher - and shorter term coder - I know that code-switching (and that is the term) occurs when a speaker alternates between two or more languages, or language varieties, in the context of a single conversation. That can be done between English and French, but also between English and Java. 

Whether you are working in a traditional language class or a programming class, memorizing rules and learning new vocabulary strengthens overall memory. Multilingual people are better at remembering lists or sequences. Language study & coding forces a focus on knowing important information & excluding extraneous information. We have all heard and read beautiful” and elegant language, such as in a Shakespeare play or great poem, but programmers and mathematicians also talk about beautiful and elegant code and equations.

logoThe conference this week is about STEAM -- STEM plus the arts, including language arts.

Engineering and other STEM subjects are appealing to students in part because they often include hands-on, real-world applications. Many students also feel that these majors lead to better job prospects. Of course, learning to think like an engineer could be useful no matter what students decide to pursue. An increasing number of high schools offer introduction to engineering courses that are project-based, an inquiry-centered. 

There is a Code as a Second Language National Initiative that brings tech professionals and software engineers into schools to introduce students to coding in classes, but also in after-school sessions and events like coding jams. 

This is all great, but my interest here is bring the coding found in STEM courses into languages classes. 

How is a programming language comparable to a spoken language?

My idea is not without precedents. Natural language processing looks at syntax, semantics and models of language analysis, interpretation & generation. Human language technology continues to grow. On a large scale, products like Google and other search tools and Apple's Siri and speech drive commercial uses. The field of computational linguistics is one that grew out of early machine translation efforts and generated mechanized linguistic theories.

There are many programming languages we might use, depending on the grade level and applications. Although JAVA is the most popular programming language, and the AP computer science exam uses a Java subset, it is more than many students will have time to learn. There are coding options that I have written about here for using simpler languages (such as SCRATCH) and tools to aid in writing programs

Although Java might not be the coolest language to use these days, you can do many things with it - including tapping into the current interest by young people for Minecraft. Using mods for Minecraft makes Java more beginner-friendly.  

Language teachers can work with STEM teachers, especially in K-12 schools, to show students the connections between concepts like syntax and help bridge student knowledge of the two fields and also understand commonalties in communications.

The 2016 NJEDge.Net Faculty Best Practices Showcase is a venue to showcase faculty work, work-in-progress or posters to the New Jersey Higher Ed and K-12 communities. Registration and Information on the presentations at

View the "Coding as a (second) Language" slides via Slideshare by Kenneth Ronkowitz


The Maker Movement Connects STEM and STEAM

Hackerspace billboard.jpg

                      Photo: Dave Jenson - We're working on it!, CC BY-SA 2.0

Maker culture has been growing, but it contains a number of subcultures. For me, maker culture now includes hackerspaces, fab(rication) labs and other spaces that encourage a DIY (do-it-yourself) approach to innovation.

These spaces are found around the world and some probably existed prior to the use of the makerspace label. Like-minded people use these spaces to share ideas, tools, and skills.

Some hackerspaces and makerspaces are found at universities with a technical orientation, such as MIT and Carnegie Mellon. But I have found that many of these spaces are quite closed spaces that are available to only students in particular programs or majors and perhaps not to the entire university community or the wider surrounding community.

So, spaces have also emerged in K-12 schools, public libraries and in the community.


The NJEDge.Net Faculty Best Practices Showcase is an excellent venue to showcase your work, work-in-progress or posters to the New Jersey Higher Ed and K-12 communities. This month I will be part of a presentation along with Emily Witkowski (Maplewood Public Library) and Danielle Mirliss (Seton Hall University) titled "The Maker Movement Connects STEAM Across New Jersey."  STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) gets plenty of attention these days, but this particular conference is focused on teaching innovations in STEAM - that's STEM with the needed addition of the Arts, including language arts and the digital humanities, and drawing on design principles and encouraging creative solutions.

The keynote speaker at the Showcase is Georgette Yakman, founding researcher and creator of ST?@M. The acronym, in this context, represents how the subject areas relate to each other: Science & Technology, interpreted through Engineering & the Arts, all based in Mathematical elements. The A stands for a broad spectrum of the arts going beyond aesthetics to include the liberal arts, folding in Language Arts, Social Studies, Physical Arts, Fine Arts & Music and the ways each shape developments in STEM fields.

The Rhode Island School of Design is a good example of having a STEM to STEAM program and maintains an interactive map that shows global STEAM initiatives. John Maeda, (2008 to 2013 president of Rhode Island School of Design) has been a leader in bringing the initiative to the political forums of educational policy. 

Our Showcase presentation presents three aspects of the maker movement: in classrooms, in libraries and the community, and in higher education. We are part of the NJ Maker Consortium which brings together educators and librarians in K-12 and Higher Ed. The consortium looks to provide local support, networking, and training for individuals working to establish or grow makerspace programs on their schools or library branches.

In 2016, the second annual New Jersey Makers Day has expanded to a two-day event, March 18 and 19. This celebration of maker culture occurs in locations across NJ and connects all-ages at libraries, schools, businesses, and independent makerspaces that support making, tinkering, crafting, manufacturing, and STEM-based learning. 

Digital Cheating (and prevention)

Cheating is not new. It is older than formal education. But the digital age has made plagiarism and stealing answers easier. This is a topic that you can bring up with teachers at any grade level and get engagement.

There is no solution. But there are techniques and some digital tools that can help.

I never received any applause doing an academic integrity workshop or presentation when I would say that I believed that the biggest cause for plagiarism and cheating is poorly designed assignments. I also believe the greatest prevention comes by teacher interventions.

But here are eight ideas from (follow link for details)

1. Create defined pathways

2. Use your digital resources (, etc.) tempered with your best judgment.

3. Encourage collaboration and choose groups wisely. - allowing and even encouraging working together.

4. Don’t ask “cheatable” questions. On this one, I like one suggestion (which I have been suggesting for years based on a professor I had myself who did it many years ago): give all your students the same assignment, but make one aspect unique to each person, or add one unique element that is not going to be found online in connection to the general topic..

5. Communicate your expectations clearly.

6. Show them you’re paying attention. Let them know you use plagiarism-detection software. Have them do a test run and see the results. Wander the classroom during testing. Ask students to explain or reflect on a specific piece of an assignment to demonstrate their learning. Do it as a spot check, not necessarily every student for every student.

7. Do your research.

8. Give up. This last piece of advice sounds defeatist, but means pick your battles and don’t get bogged down with small issues.


Flipping Learning and Making Spaces

I did a presentation titled "Flipping the Learning Model" for the annual conference of the Connecticut Education Network in May 2015. The flipped classroom has been a hot topic in education for a number of years, but more recently, the idea of flipping professional development has been experimented at schools and in corporate training. That is a topic I did a presentation on last fall at NJEDge.Net Annual Conference. Taking the flipped classroom into the world of professional development is a relatively new step in the flipped learning model.

What I was more interested in in the CEN presentation was rethinking how learners work before and after a face-to-face training session to make it more self-directed.

That leads us into discussions of technology integration and andragogical concepts that maximize the time online and during the live group sessions.In both cases, the idea is to rethink what we want to spend our time with in face-to-face (F2F) sessions and how can we move training before and after those sessions to be self-directed.

The flipped learning model using technology, even in our personal learning, maximizes the F2F time for interaction.

I paired my session with another one on makerspaces and I asked attendees to try this flipped learning activity before coming to the conference and the plan was that we would complete it in the face-to-face session. 

As I anticipated, only a few people took up the challenge to do something prior to the session. They were asked to to experiment with one or more ways to increase the volume and sound quality of a smartphone using simple materials and no electronics or additional power. The sample provided online were simple - from just using a cup or bowl to a built object. A few people brought a result of their DIY experimentation to the live session. I would expect a bigger response from students in a course or a group involved in a class, project or makerspace. But, as my slides indicated, as with assigning students "homework" any flipped model must anticipate that some attendeees will not have done the preparation for the session.

In our face-to-face session, I tested a few samples with a decibel meter, but the presentation and my intent was to discuss how this simple exercise can be applied to classroom learning.

I asked some questions of those who did try experimenting, as I would with students.

What did you learn from your experiments? What materials made the greatest improvement in sound? What is more important: volume or sound quality? How would you define "sound quality?" What additional equipment or learning would be necessary for you to go further with this experiment? How might you use this exercise (or a similar one) in your classroom?

I recall reading EDUCAUSE's "7 Things You Should Know About Makerspaces" in 2013. They ask and answer, "What are the implications for teaching and learning?"

"The makerspace gives room and materials for physical learning. Because these spaces can easily be cross-disciplinary, students in many fields can use them, often finding technical help for work they are undertaking in their areas. At the same time, those in engineering and technology will find their work enriched by contributions from those in other fields. Makerspaces allow students to take control of their own learning as they take ownership of projects they have not just designed but defined. At the same time, students often appreciate the

hands-on use of emerging technologies and a comfortable acquaintance with the kind of experimentation that leads to a completed project. Where makerspaces exist on campus, they provide a physical laboratory for inquiry-based learning."

Whether you call your space for creative work and play a classroom or a makerspace or an innovation lab, hackerspace, tech shop or fabrication lab, what we need to focus on as educators is what goes on inside that space. More important than the name of the space is the pedagogy for its use and how it reaches out to a larger community - whether that be a school, campus or city.


Aren't Teachers Also Instructional Designers?

Instructional Design in Educational Settings from Kenneth Ronkowitz

A colleague at the college asked me if I would do a presentation to his class about how instructional design might fit into educational settings. It's a class that is made up of students in our teacher prep program, and also students that are studying professional technical communications. It's an odd blend. The communication students are unfamiliar with teaching and the future teachers have no background in topics such as instructional design. My presentation discussed how instructional design differs from designing lessons as a teacher. Although the two fields share some things - and it would be good for each to know something about the other field - they have different skills and goals.

I started with some textbook definitions: "The term instructional design refers to the systematic and reflective process of translating principles of learning and instruction into plans for instructional materials, activities, information resources, and evaluation. An instructional designer is somewhat like an engineer." (Smith, Patricia L., and Tillman J. Ragan. Instructional design. New York, NY: Wiley, 1999.)

Teachers focus on tasks/learning opportunities for students. Educational learning designers design “documents and describes a learning activity in such a way that other teachers can understand it and use it in their own context. Typically a learning design includes descriptions of learning tasks, resources and supports provided by the teacher.” (Donald, Blake, Girault, Datt, & Ramsay, 2009)

I asked AREN’T ALL TEACHERS INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGNERS? My short answer is "No." Teachers designing lessons (Learning Design) focus on the individual lesson/session -> week -> unit. They are often not involved in the decision-making process of what the content will be (textbooks, units etc.), although they are the subject matter expert.

In contrast, instructional designers (ID) have a more global focus, often driven by performance goals. They work with subject matter experts (SME) who provide the content. (In some smaller companies, the ID may also be considered the SME.)
If you look at job ads for instructional designers, you will find most positions are in the corporate sector, though colleges employ IDs. There are a few situations where the two worlds cross, such as an ID working for an educational vendor like Pearson.

The instructional designer's responsibilities include having to participate in product ideation, innovation, and iteration; synthesize and apply academic learning theory to product features; create design schematics in conjunction with UI designers; participate in the learner validation, and subsequent iteration, of schematics into design specifications and patterns; contributing to other design, development, research, and evaluation tasks, as needed.

In smaller companies, you may have responsibilities for managing a content management system, graphic design, video or visual design elements. You'll notice that it does not include providing content or being the SME.

The skills that an ID needs to identify to a potential employer and evidence by viewable projects and products include a deep and demonstrated knowledge of learning design principles; experience synthesizing and applying research from the learning sciences to product design in clear, tangible, documented ways; an understanding of various adaptive models and characteristics and their impact on learning; understanding of evidence-based, learner-centered design processes, techniques and tools; experience participating in the design of learner interfaces and learner experiences.

The skills noted in job ads are often very specific – “Captivate 6+” - but resumes should always be (and in my experience in reading them, often are not) specific. “Experienced in using Agile/Scrum methodologies in dispersed, cross-functional teams” is a more useful description than listing Captivate. (Students don't seem to realize that listing Microsoft Office or even PowerPoint and Excel is pretty much useless to a search committee.) 

In anticipating interview questions, an ID should be ready to answer what tools or methods they would use for creating design schematics and specifications; conducting validation testing with learners, instructors, administrators and experts; conducting formalized acceptance testing, usability testing and pilot testing; increasing participation in a complex technology systems with numerous stakeholders and requirements.

The formal education or equivalent experiences that you find in ID resumes vary widely. A graduate degrees in instructional design is the obvious degree. We also find evidence of candidates that have knowledge of software and UI design practices; experience gathering and applying peer-reviewed scholarly research and user research; instructional design and UCD testing experience; classroom teaching or training experience; experience in the research-based design of adaptive technology, software, or digital learning products (adaptive learning systems e.g., Bayesian Nets, cognitive modeling, machine learning) and applicants with backgrounds in Learning Science, Cognitive Psychology, Computer Science, Educational Technology, Educational Psychology, Human Factors, Artificial Intelligence, or Learning Analytics.

In an ideal world, teachers would have a background in learning theory and instructional design theory, practice and tools. They would also have input into the higher levels of curriculum design. Instructional designers in that ideal world would have more than just a student view on how learning is designed in academia. They would be able to bridge the learning styles established in K-12 with those of undergraduate courses, to graduate to professional learning.

One another side-note I discussed was about online learning: An article I referenced for the class was "Lesson Planning: The Missing Link in e-Learning Course Design." So much of the instructional designer's work these days is for developing online learning and training. "Lesson planning is not a typical topic in instructional design courses and programs, although education courses and programs always include it. Consequently, few IDs without education backgrounds know how to develop lesson plans. Though developing a lesson plan for e-Learning is similar in many ways to developing a lesson plan for instructor-led learning, there are also differences. IDs need to remember that there is no instructor present in self-paced e-Learning, and simple as this sounds, it does take some getting used to. This concept is especially difficult to grasp for experienced stand-up trainers and facilitators who are new to designing instruction."

My slides for the presentation are online and a streaming video capture of the session is also available.