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Blackboard the Pirate Returns and Wins Bounty and Other News Today
Monday, February 25, 2008
Some quick news from today:
1. Blackboard awarded $3.1 million from Desire2Learn in its lawsuit ( I find this a ridiculous ruling which will initially have a negative impact on the learning of learners of this planet. But for the long-term, it will foster innovation to build something better. On the positive side of all this, at least now people will be searching for ways to push personalized learning environments (PLEs), ecological models of learning, and really effective and motivational learning tools, since Blackboard has shown no interest in that. They say nothing here about their interest in fostering thinking, reflection, debate, discussion, idea sharing, knowledge representation, critical thinking, juxtaposing ideas, etc. No, they take a patent out on the log-in process. I never saw any learning or creativity happen from log-in. Perhaps PLE-related research, books, conferences, and ideas will be more pervasive now!

Per the article:
“Mr. Small said Blackboard never claimed to have invented the course-management system. What the company did invent, he said, is "a course-management system where a single user with a single log-on could have multiple roles across multiple classes." For instance, a person who was a student in one course and a teaching assistant in another could log on once and access all of his course materials.

"It really was transformative for the industry," Mr. Small said. "We knew we were the first doing it at the time, and that's why we applied for the patent. People look at the technology now and say that's obvious, but at the time, we were the first, and we're very proud of it."

This is transformative? Really. Transformative? Must be an awfully boring place to work. Sure glad I no longer am a boring accountant/CPA. If I was, I might enjoy lunch with these guys. If this is the most transformative they can be, they will not be around for much longer. No creativity shown here. In fact, their lawsuit is a simple exhibition of their lack of creativity and imagination. When one has no new ideas, one sues on old stuff. Their work parties must be deadly!

Simply put, they are concerned with patenting boring stuff. They are patenting student or user log-in to a course management system. Are they crazy? Pretty soon they will try to patent logging into the Web since they spent a countless years developing that login bar and icon. Not. Anyway this is an interesting development.

Let's hope in the coming years that companies like Blackboard open up their products to learning, innovation, creativity, etc.! We, the humans of this planet, have freedom to learn. We have freedom to teach with whatever tools we want to seek out. We have freedom to picket our administrators who might choose your silly products. We have freedom to pick our vendors, especially, when they are free. The Moodle and Sakai people must be laughing hysterically at the outcome. This is not like Pepsi patenting the color of its soda or aspects of its production process. This is about the education of the citizens of this planet. People will remember this day, not for a week, not for a year, and not just for this decade, but for decades and decades to come. And creative educators (and, yes, there are many) will remember this day. Arrrr!!!!

2. USA Today Today Article #1: Two good articles in the USA Today. One on a creative teacher, Gregory Fisher, who uses PBL in teaching economics classes in a high school in California (the California Academy of Math and Science). Fisher displays a sense of humor, high expectations, embed recent news in his classes, does not dumb down content, mixes up his teaching, uses a wide array of projects, and never takes himself too seriously. He also embeds methods for student participation, uses project-based learning, takes risks, and simply tries new stuff out. Finally, he brings in experts, uses student-centered learning, creates tutoring and counseling programs for his students, and, to avoid stress, he jogs and plays basketball with his students. Very similar ideas to those in my R546 class this semester on alternative instructional strategies for critical and creative thinking, motivation, and cooperative learning (see and The title of the article is: “He puts His money on creative, practical work:” I bet Mr. Fisher never worries about patents from Blackboard limiting his creativity and nor should any of you. Way to go Mr. Fisher! 3. USA Today Today Article #2: The second article today in the USA Today is on a new book related to the big switch coming from computers being a box in front of us to being a switch like electricity. In fact, the book is called “Big Switch.” According to the author, Nicholas Carr, the Internet itself is becoming a giant computer. Soon it will exhibit artificially intelligent behaviors. Are you ready for the big switch? Humm. The article is titled “World Wide Computer is on horizon”:

4. Randy Pausch/Last Lectures from the Chronicle of Higher Education: There is also an article in the Wired or online Chronicle of Higher Education on Randy Pausch, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and co-founder of its Entertainment Technology Center, who was given a few months to live 6 months back and has so far beaten the odds. He has done a lot in the meantime writing books, appearing in a Star Trek film, and helping persuade congress to pass legislation related to pancreatic cancer. This is great news. I blogged on his last lecture back in September (see Much media has surrounded him the past few months.

YouTube Survey Final Final Final Notice: As a final final final reminder, I am doing a survey on motivational and instructional design aspects of YouTube Videos. Since August or September, I have collected 994 respondents. When I get to my goal of 1,000, I will have a raffle for an iPod and iPhone. You could win one. This research project expires on Sunday March 2nd. The raffle will be Thursday or Friday or perhaps Saturday this week. If you have yet to participate, please do. If you already have participated, please share it with a friend. If you want to participate in this survey, go to:

Note also that I have a group in Facebook related to YouTube research with over 320 members called “Bonkian YouTubian Researchian”—you can join this at:

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Bonk News: Scribd Site, YouTube Survey, and IU Basketball Coach "Kelvin Clean Cut"
Friday, February 22, 2008
Three bits of news Today: (1) Scribd Site, (2) YouTube Survey, and (3) IU Basketball Coach "Kelvin Clean Cut":

1. Scribd Site
( Today “The Wired Campus” section of the Chronicle of Higher Ed noted a paper sharing site very similar to YouTube today called “Scribd. “ Students are sharing marked up papers but academics are also sharing high level ones too and discussing them. I think we will also be using resources like Scribd a lot in the years to come. If you need a paper and forget the URL, you might find it in Scribd. If your paper is rejected over and over, you might put it in Scribd. This is yet another way of fostering online collaboration and sharing of papers in the Web 2.0. This particular online service allows people to upload and share papers, technical reports, or even entire books using a Flash-based document reader called iPaper.

The Chronicle reporter, Jeffrey Young, says the experience of using it feels something akin to the old days of microfilm readers (see his article at There is a catalog or library of iPaper documents which users can view, comment on, rate, share, etc. or upload their own documents to. I wonder whether any of my students will upload papers I have graded, thereby allowing others to see my wonderfully insightful comments (smile). Go ahead, make my day. I know a year ago when speaking in Taipei I had someone in the audience hold up a paper of hers I had graded a decade previously. I thought she wanted me to regrade it. Perhaps such discussions will take place in Scribd for the entire world to see. Smile again. Well, no one will be able to read my handwriting I think. Interesting that there are private or public groups in Scribd just like in Yahoo Groups. And you can listen to articles spoken by a choppy though effective computer generated voice. Problem is it reads everything in the document, including one’s address and zip code. You can skip over such parts though if you know where such tedious moments are in the document.

As I indicated, you might use Scribd to get out some old papers that you want others to finally read. Or perhaps some poems you wrote but never shared before. Maybe you want to upload some papers in case your computer dies or you are worried you might lose them, or, worse still, pass away yourself. If in a research think tank or research arm of a company, you might upload some white papers that are now shareable with the general public. Perhaps you have a research team which wants feedback on its initial ideas. In that case, you might use Scribd. The most viewed document I found in Scribd was a music list written in Spanish which had over 400,000 viewers. I sure wish one of my articles someday gets that many views. Smile! As with YouTube, articles can be found on many topics—history, government, health, sports, science, business, computers, culture, etc. (see According to its Website, Scribd was founded in 2006 by people such as Adler, Jared Friedman, and Tikhon Bernstam. They have an office in downtown San Francisco. I may try to visit them when I am there in March 7-9.

2. YouTube Survey: Your Final Chance (PLEASE TAKE MY SURVEY AND WIN AN IPOD OR IPHONE): Ok, if you like Scribd, you probably like YouTube as well. My colleague, Grace Lin, from the University of Houston and I have a Web-based survey related to motivational aspects of YouTube videos is about ready to expire. You take some questions and watch a popular YouTube video and take some more questions. Wow--983 we have respondents so far. Our goal is 1,000. We just need 17 more. On February 28th or when we get to 1,000 respondents, we will have a raffle drawing for a 160 gig video iPod and another for an iPhone. If you want to participate in this survey, go to: Note also that I have a group in Facebook related to YouTube research with over 320 members called “Bonkian YouTubian Researchian”—you can join this at:

3. IU Basketball Coach "Kelvin Clean Cut" Since I have been at IU, we have lost Bobby Knight and then Mike Davis and tonight it is Kelvin Sampson; this last one is apparently for some impermissible phone calls. See breaking news: Gosh $750,000 just to agree not to sue IU. I can just see the fans chating, "Kelvin Clean Cut," Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap. "Kelvin Clean Cut," Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap. When I leave IU, I will promise not to sue IU. Do you think they will gladly fork over $750,000 to me? Not likely since I am just a professor. But I do know how to play basketball so perhaps that is worth something is this b-ball crazed state. Crazy? Yes. The state religion? Most definitely. I was like that as a kid up in Milwaukee. My friends and I loved basketball. I saw many a Marquette game with my best friend Stan whose father was the former athletic director there. We would shovel off the driveway just to get a chance to play hoops. Icicles hanging from our noses and we would still play. Ice on the driveway and we would still play. Foot high snowbanks around the basketball court and we would still play. Wind gusts blowing at 20 or 30 miles per hour or more and we would still play. Minus 20 or 30 windchill or worse and we would still play. Gloves, hats, scarves, thermal underwear, 2 pairs of socks, etc. and we would still play. It was tough to make shots in semi-darkness with gloves on but we tried. The backboard made a loud thunking noise when my brothers shot off it. It was so frozen the ball would just die and fall in the hoop no matter how hard they shot it. But this is what my friends and I did everyday of the winter. On days (and nights) like these, I miss my basketball hoop. I miss my friends from Milwaukee—I miss Arlie, David, Marty, Mark, Stan, Billy boy, Mike, and my brothers, Tom and Richard and anyone else who would show up at my house or whatever court we decided to play on that evening. Humm…back to the coach firing story! As an aside, someone might look up when we finished paying off Knight and Davis and how much that was and then add up all three payoffs. Such info might be interesting and surprising. And then look at the cost of tuition over the same time period as well as staff and faculty pay increases and see how they compare. As a former CPA and corporate controller, I find such data always of interest. Time to go shoot some hoops. I think each shot I can make is likely worth 5G’s tonight. Whatcha think?

Reminder: If you want to participate in my YouTube survey and perhaps win an iPod or iPhone, go to: The drawing is just a few days away! This survey will close soon. Don’t delay. Share. Share. Share!!!!!!
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New York Times article on online language learning and 10 such sites
Sunday, February 17, 2008
My strange week continues. Today (February 17, 2008), there is an article by Anne Eisenberg in the New York Times on online language learning wherein I am quoted. See:
If you get the NY Times, see page 4 of the Business Section today. My part is in the middle--before and after my section, there is information from the founders of Livemocha and Chinesepod, respectfully. I was interviewed shortly after interviewing the president of Livemocha, Shirish Nadkarni, for my WE-ALL-LEARN book. I also interviewed the president of Chinesepod. Here is the quote from the article related to me:

“Curtis J. Bonk, a professor of education at Indiana University in Bloomington, is specializing in ways to integrate online technologies into teaching. He says LiveMocha is part of an explosion of educational resources for language learning on the Web.

“You no longer have to learn language as an individual in a silo somewhere, using a canned program on a CD-ROM,” he said. “Instead, you have thousands of tutors to pick from — if the first one doesn’t work out, you can choose another.”

This is just a snippet of the conversation that we had about the potential of online language learning. But I guess my point was that there are many tools and systems out there now for learning a language online. One no longer must rely on finding time for formal classroom training or resort of boring training on a CD. As seen when a student travels to Asia or Europe for a semester during high school or college, he or she can now go online and find native speakers, thereby saving time and money, while learning when it is most convenient.

Of course, this requires motivated and self-directed learners. What brings about such motivation and willingness to learn without a grade or mark? Perhaps it is job related and one’s career can be boosted. Perhaps it is personal such as when one has close friends or new acquaintances from another country or who know another language. Perhaps one is going on a trip or expecting an extended stay in another country or region of the world. My research team and I are about to do research on what motivates people to give or receive tutoring in such systems. The results should prove interesting and informative, or so I hope. We already are collecting data on what motivates one to create, share, contribute to, or watch YouTube videos (if you want to contribute to that research and perhaps win an iPhone or iPod, please go to: Perhaps these two research projects can be combined.

As noted in the article, the field of online language learning is exploding! Listed below are 10 online language learning sites (the first two, Livemocha and Chinesepod are reviewed in the NY Times article):

1. Livemocha: Livemocha combines language learning self-paced lessons (i.e., online content) with a community of tutors (i.e., people who give of their time and talent) and a suite of tools for learning language. Company was started last year by Shirish Nadkarni. They began with content in 6 languages which the majority of the world speaks—English, Mandarin Chinese, German, French, Hindi, and Spanish. This site has content plus human tutors plus motivational features embedded in it—it is the combination of such elements that make it an interesting and potentially explosive learning-related idea. Livemocha has gotten 200,000 language tutors or mentors from more than 200 countries in just a few months. Advertising and other premium content and services will soon be offered. This is definitely one company to watch as they experiment with and add new features. Livemocha recently obtained $6 million venture capital. They experienced rapid growth prior to it; now imagine what will happen with it. Could they become the Google of online language learning? We will "Livemocha" the Web when we need information related to language learning. Just how many languages might they soon offer beyond the original six? Could Livemocha evolve into a language learning school or institute with college credits or certificates? Could it evolve into one of the most important education-related sites on the Internet? I believe that Shirish has the vision to make this happen. We will see.

2. Chinesepod: Chinesepod is also quite exciting. I have been tracking it for nearly a couple of years now. It teaches Mandarin Chinese online; hundreds of thousands of people download the podcasts each month (270,000 visitors per month according to the NYT article), plus it offers many other supplemental language services; e.g., tutoring in Skype, transcripts of the podcasts, language exercises, etc., which uses pay for. Ken Carroll is a co-founder—a very cool guy who is highly interested in online pedagogy. Perhaps one of just a handful of people I have talked to in the past year who understands the Web 2.0 as well as innovative pedagogy. Ken knows the importance of emerging technology plus innovations in instruction. How so? Well, he reads from many leading figures in the field. Connectivism? Sure George Siemens is in his reading list. Communities of practice? Well, then, he has thoroughly read from John Seely Brown as well as Etionne Wenger. These are just a couple of examples. Premium services are also offered to which thousands of people currently subscribe (see NY Times article). The company name is Praxis. It will be highly interesting to see how this site (as well as Praxis) evolves before and after the upcoming summer Olympics in Beijing. This online language tool and company will be interesting to watch during the coming year. There are days wherein I wish people like Ken were in my university or department.

3. Spanishpod: This is the latest venture of the people from Chinesepod; expected to grow even faster than Chinesepod did. A similar focus on free podcasts with premium services offered in addition to that. Like Chinesepod, it is very slick in its instructional design and delivery. Dozens of people (script writers, actors, instructional designers, production managers, etc.) are involved in producing the podcasts for Chinesepod and Spanishpod. Much time, thought, planning, creativity, and goes into it. How might Spanishpod and Chinesepod be linked? Might some type of language certificates or college credits be offered through them? Might online language learning tutors and mentors be trained though them? We will see what transpires.

4. Englishpod: Englishpod was expected to attract more attention important than Chinesepod when it first came out. But for various reasons it didn’t. It is now more focused on mobile English learning in China. It is owned by the same company as Chinesepod and Spanishpod, Praxis. With the explosive growth of mobile phones in China (which I tracked in a survey in corporate blended learning last year), it is an important and obvious move for Praxis. Englishpod could set many mobile learning standards. Ideas related to teaching and learning could be transformed by this site—learning will be shorter, smaller, and more direct and on demand as a result. Just how might innovations in learning from China, in turn, impact the West?

5. Mixxer: Mixxer is also quite interesting. It was created based on the languages tutoring approaches seen in Europe; especially Germany. Mixxer says it has 300 teachers and 15,000 people looking for a language exchange. It is advertized as a free educational community for language learners and teachers to find a language partner—Mixxer uses tools like Skype, chat, etc. Not growing as fast as Livemocha, Chinesepod, or FriendsAbroad but still very interesting. Run through Dickinson College in Pennsylvania by its developer, Todd Byrant. In Mixxer, partners meet online and help each other practice and learn a foreign language.

6. FriendsAbroad: Free voice calls, a language learning network, and a few language learning tools (e.g., online dictionaries). It says you can learn language skills in an online language exchange community of millions of users in over 200 countries speaking more than 80 languages. Speak, hear, and look up words in online translation dictionaries. One place says millions of users and later it says 500,000 users. In any event, it is a lot! The fact that this site as well as Livemocha and others ask if one is in a relationship indicates that there is some interest in matchmaking and fostering assorted personal relationships as well as language learning in many of these sites. Many people seem to be finding their significant other online. Might there be spin-out matchmaking sites or special features embedded in such tools and systems someday, complete with wedding and honeymoon pictures of those who first met in such sites? I can see the tagline—FriendsAbroad—join the thousands of people who learned a language and found a lifelong spouse or partner at the same time.

7. Chinswing: Chinswing is just cool. It takes minutes to learn. Constructive communication is the goal of this tool; converse with other people about different topics and practice your language skills. When I visited, I saw many people practicing their English in Chinswing. Unlike online forums, each threaded discussion is not text-based, but, instead is there are threads of audio files responding to an initial issue, question, comment, or concern along with a thumbnail picture of the person who is speaking. You can scroll a sequential, horizontal bar of audiofiles and comments. Using Chinswing, people construct meaning or negotiate ideas in an open learning environment. There are forums on many topics (education, religion, business, etc.) wherein you can join in to comment, provide feedback, or just listen to. This is an empowering tool that does not take much time to learn. And, like many of these sites, it is free. Founder: Dean Worth of Australia. Watch for this site to change or expand in the near future. Dean indicated that he is in discussions with others about this.

8. Mango Languages: Unlike many of the other tools mentioned above, Mango Languages provides the study of a second language in an individual setting. The lessons are completely based on Flash movies. The learner listens and reads the phrases presented on each screen and he or she is encouraged to repeat each phrase. Something worth mentioning for Spanish speakers learning English--when the mouse is placed over any word in English, a callout pops up containing its closest pronunciation in Spanish.

9. Lomastv: This site is an online Spanish video magazine for people who wish to improve their Spanish skills. Authentic Spanish videos include television programs, music videos, interviews, documentaries, and travel. Web site offers Spanish and English captions, pitch-correct slow play, integrated dictionaries and listening exercises. I have not explored this one much yet. My research team is, however, so I list it here.

10. LanguageLab: LanguageLab uses the virtual world of "Second Life" to attend classes on a virtual campus. A placement test determines student's level. Classes are composed of 6 to 8 students at the same level. It uses voice over IP. This will likely grow as Second Life and similar virtual worlds expand. This one will be interesting to monitor.

Other places one might go to include Webheads: Webheads is an online community of ESL instructors and a community for online language learning. Webheads share information on teaching language online; conferences for instructors, etc.; contact my friend Vance Stevens, UAE, for more information.

There is also the Pocket School project for underserved children which my friend, Dr. Paul Kim at Stanford is working on. See: This project attempts to provide literacy skills for children in Latin America using relatively cheap ($20) MP3 players. Like those who listen to Chinesepod and have a teacher in their pockets, this project allows the children of migrant workers and others to access literacy training when and where needed. It is an example of mobile online language learning.

I hope you like the New York Times article and this list of language learning links (here is a link reminder: Much of this information will find a way into the book I am working on right now, "WE-ALL-LEARN: An Open Educational Extension of the World is Flat." Have fun exploring them and learning a new language!
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My Freaky Two Days in Illinois
Friday, February 15, 2008
I wrote this recap for my blog and people who are writing to me about my Illinois adventures this week. I spoke at Northern Illinois University of Wednesday and meetings at the University of Illinois on Thursday.

Freaky incident #1:
I got up at 4 am on Wednesday morning and went running (since I must run every day) and then drove up to DeKalb which was 5-6 hours to the north. Tuesday we had a bad snow and ice storm. Roads were bad but not too bad. Some of the streets by my house were pure ice—-hard to run. Flashlight in hand, I got in a good run. Time to drive—my neighborhood was the worst part with all that ice. Most of the expressways had snow or ice on the side of the road but the lanes were fairly good; still no room for error. I had a close call with death on the way up near Champaign with a huge truck/tractor carrying gigantic wheels tried coming in my lane on the expressway as I was trying to pass him. I think he could not see me. I had to slam on my brakes and I am glad they worked. Everything flew in my car all over the place. Breathed deeply after that one. Fortunately, it was the one stretch of road wherein there was a meridian or extra bit of lane or I might be pushing daisies right now.

Freaky incident #2:
Last night I got home from Illinois. I spoke at Northern Illinois University Wednesday b4 going to Champaign. I was there touring the NIU campus Wednesday all day and giving talks there in the afternoon and one late that night. Did you see the news ( I am sure you have. There was a shooting on Thursday afternoon. It seems that there are 6 dead, and 21 people shot (including the grad student instructor I think). Gunman was a student (white man dressed in black) from the University of Illinois who graduated from NIU in sociology the year before. He too is now dead—he reloaded his gun and killed himself. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education today (, he stopped taking his medication and started to act strangely. See photos from the tragedy:

I feel bad for all the friends and families impacted by this and for NIU since it is such a great place. Did I pass any of those students the day before? How could this have been prevented? Was this guy staking things out the day before? Did I perhaps pass him on the streets? Will universities be forced to increase their screening and security? Will it no longer feel like a university anymore?

With all due respect for the students who were killed or wounded, this is all just too odd for me not to post something in my blog. Ok, I called my friends up there last night (I have a close friend from grad school days at Wisconsin in ed psych who is a professor there—Dr. Cecil Smith. I also have a former student teaching up there—Dr. Lisa Yamagata Lynch). Cecil had fortunately left for a meeting in DC earlier that day and Lisa was teaching 2 hours away off campus. Cecil’s wife, Ellen, told me that they had helicopters hovering over their house for a while after this. Apparently this happened at 3 pm. The night before, Cecil, Ellen, and I were reminiscing about graduate school days at Wisconsin in the late 1980s. Life seemed so peaceful there—despite the cold and snow. In fact, it was so cold Wednesday that it is hard to imagine anyone doing anything like this.

What is the reaction at NIU? Jason Underwood, a doctoral student who arranged my visit sent me an email today that said: “it's been a sobering couple of days.” I am sure it has. Lisa sent me a note last night after her class: “Can't really think right now.” I am sure that many people at NIU will have a tough time thinking for the balance of this semester and on into next year. Many of my IU friends and former students are sending me similar notes and reflections. This entire country has just entered another state of shock! Can anyone in this country spell gun control (of some kind)? Will states and cities have to adopt gun banning laws like nonsmoking laws? Will a link between guns and deaths have to appear like those between smoking and deaths before anyone does anything? Oh ya, I think that such research already exists. This should not be hard.

The real strange thing is that I had a choice of presenting on Wednesday or Thursday. I am glad I picked Wednesday now. He could have picked the lecture hall of my heavily advertised talk in their new alumni center. That would not have been good. There were fliers on it all over campus. My talks can be downloaded here:

He was a University of Illinois student! I was at the University of Illinois all day Thursday. So I was at both places this crazy guy hung out at. Makes me think twice about presenting somewhere now!

Freaky incident #3:
Freaky thing #3 when at the University of Illinois yesterday, at about 1 pm, Michael Linderman, Director of Program and Course Development, University of Illinois Global Campus, met me in his office after we had lunch and we chatted about many things related to online learning and their approach to course design. Seems that they are developing many interesting online classes in education, e-learning, nursing, safety management, etc. They have some impressive plans and an excellent and relaxing work environment and staff. What a great place to work! Michael is someone anyone could work for. We discussed e-learning conferences. Michael soon asked if I would go to the Sloan-C conference on asynchronous learning networks in Orlando next November. I told him that I was never invited and that I wanted to go but that they have the really top people in distance learning and e-learning there so maybe I am bottom people. As a result, no invite for this bottom feeder (i.e., me). Little did I know that Karen Swan from Kent State University had sent me an email roughly 20 minutes earlier inviting me to give a plenary session and workshop at the conference. I have been waiting for such an invite for a few years. Freaky! The invite was coming as we spoke and I had not spoken of my interest in that conference to anyone previously (I had kept my interests internal—in my head). The past few days have been strange with a Capital S!

Freaky incident #4:
When in Champaign, I had breakfast with a Korean doctoral student at the University of Illinois who was a master’s student of a former student of mine who is now a professor in Korea. I am helping her with her dissertation on e-mentoring online. She was my tour guide when my son, Alex, and I were in Korea for a world cup soccer game 6 years ago. You never know when you are going to bump into someone again. And then I had lunch with an instructional designer from the Illinois Global Campus who was a master’s student of another former student of mine who is now a professor in Korea. Her sister is now applying to my program. It is such a small world. So back to back meetings with people who are students of former Korean students of mine. Many Koreans interested in e-learning and studying or working in the USA. Freaky stuff this week. Students of students? Geez, I am getting old. Smile. At least they are not students of students of students of mine. But at least I started in higher education at age 13.

I think no more TravelinEdman for a while.
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Bonk's 30-30 Rule: Questions for Higher Education Faculty Job Interviews
Monday, February 04, 2008
Have you ever looked for a job and been frustrated that the questions seem to have come from left field (or right field or center or perhaps from an idiot playing short stop)? Have you ever scrambled or been overly nervous trying to think of all the questions you might be asked in a job interview? Sure, everyone undoubtedly has.

How can technology help? Today, face-to-face interviews are no longer the only option. Increasingly, I see universities relying on technology to speed up the process and enable them to more effectively spend their limited travel monies while simultaneously expanding the job pool of applicants. Given the expansion, it gives candidates who might be weaker on paper but who have more passion for their chosen occupation, charisma, interpersonal skills, creativity, and flexibile personalities to shine. What technologies? Well, let me see...there is Skype, Google Talk, Wikipspaces, Yahoo, AOL, or MSN chat, chat within a course management system, Webcam interviews, email interviews, IP-based videoconferencing, and phone (landline, mobile phone, and speakerphone conference calls) or some combination of any of these. Yes, interviews, like courses in higher education, are fast becoming highly blended experiences. I do not forsee academic interviews in Second Life or Twitter just yet but I am sure that they are coming.

If it was me, I would have a bunch of 20-30 minute videoconferences with candidates--say 8-10 in 4-5 hours. You could really meet some interesting people that way and find some talent that you might not see otherwise. Of course, phone or email interviews might reduce internal biases so that might be a place to start. Often, a candidate will look great simply because of who he or she worked with but may not be that great as what appeared on paper. The university one graduated from and the people mentoring and publishing with that person are indicators of strength but they should not place blinders on search committees and too often such criteria do.

While interviews using videoconferencing seemed like the craze a few years ago, lately, I seem to have a number of my doctoral students getting phone interviews for jobs in higher education. I was on a search committee recently that utilized phone interviews before bringing candidates in for face-to-face interviews. It is so common, it is now expected. When this occurs for one of my students, I normally give them a list of 20 questions that they might be asked during said interviews and another set of 20 questions that they can ask of those doing the interviews. I am often told that these are helpful but recently someone said I was missing some key ones that she was asked. In response, I expanded the list tonight to 30 questions or topic areas they could ask about and 30 more that the person being interviewing could ask. They are posted below. Hope you can use some of them.

Part 1: 30 Topic areas that could be asked during phone or face-to-face interviews:
1. Current Research Grants: What grants are you bringing with you? What grant sources? Do you have anything in progress? What’s your experience preparing grant and managing grant?
2. Future Research Grants: Do you have any grants in review or that you intend to write? Can you tell us where your future research will come from?
3. Research Focus: Tell us about your research. How would you establish a research program here? One of the papers you submitted talks about XYZ, and I have been doing research that is related—can you tell me her views on XYZ. What have you focused on in your research? Do you have a research plan for the next 2-3 years? What about 5 years from now? Where is it headed?
4. Research Strengths and Weaknesses: What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses as a researcher?
5. Dissertation: Why did you choose your particular dissertation topic? What did you discover? What did you find that you did not expect? What would you do differently? Will you extend your research?
6. Colleagues and Mentors: Who are you working with? Who is your advisor? Who is your mentor? I see you are working with XYZ, how did this collaboration start?
7. Future Colleagues and Mentors: Who do you think you can work with from our faculty here at XYZ university? Have you read any articles of the faculty members here or explored their Websites? Note that some advise reading at least 1 article from every person in the department in which you are interviewing.
8. City, Geographic Location, and Culture: Tell us what you know about the city and area of the country we are in. What do you know about our culture? How do you feel about living here?
9. University: What do you know about our university” What interests you most about coming here?
10. Strengths or Contribution: What can you bring to the program/dept. in terms of research and grant? What contributions can you make?
11. Your Goals: What are you looking for? What is your ideal job?
12. Teaching Approach or Philosophy: Tell us some of your teaching techniques or approaches. What is your teaching philosophy? How do you motivate students?
13. Teaching Expectations: Have you read through our course catalog? What courses from there do you think you might want to teach? If you could teach any course, what would it be (i.e., what is your ideal course)? Based on what you know about us, what courses do you think our department might development?
14. Teaching Strengths and Weaknesses: What do you see as your greatest strengths and weaknesses as a teacher?
15. Distance Teaching Experience: Do you have experience teaching at a distance and/or designing distance courses?
16. Personal Questions: I always ask to tell me their hobbies and favorite groups or type of music but I want to work with people a long time. They might ask about what you do in your spare time.
17. K-12 (or corporate or higher ed) Experience: Do you have K-12 or higher education teaching experience?
18. Courses to Teach: What courses do you feel comfortable in teaching?
19. Type of Researcher: Are you a qualitative or quantitative researcher?
20. Books: Tell us what books you have read in the field lately and your impressions of them?
21. Conferences and Professional Organizations: What conferences do you plan to go to or do you like? What professional organizations are you a member of? Have you held any professional posts within them?
22. Collaboration: Describe instances wherein you collaborated with others in research, teaching, grant writing, and other service. Do you see yourself as someone who works individually or collaboratively? Tell us about the general principles that guide your interactions when working collaboratively in a team activity.
23. Homepage: Do you post your teaching philosophy or publications at a web site? Do you have a homepage? If so, what can we find on it?
24. Accomplishments: What have you accomplished in your current position?
25. Reasons for Applying: Why did you apply for this job? What interested you?
26. What Do You Want to Know: Is there anything we could answer about this position or university?
27. Job Fit: How do you see yourself fitting in within this program or department?
28. Department or Program Initiatives: We have been doing XYZ lately. What might you contribute? What might you do?
29. Position: This is a tenure track, nontenure track, lab, clinical, etc., position. Can you tell us how you match this position and why you applied for it?
30. Other: Do you have any additional questions for us? Can we answer anything else?

Ok, that is 30 things they could ask you. But what might you ask them? Aha! Time for some revenge--what can you catch them off guard about? Yes, 2 can play this cat and mouse game. Of course, it does not have to be a game at all--it can and should be a very friendly and cordial back and forth of questioning and answering. When that occurs, you have likely found a place you can feel at home and will stay a long time or so we hope. So use these questions below at the appropriate moments. I would not ask all of them; just use the ones that are critical to you or that fit within your interview conversation. The more conversational and colleagial you make it, the more likely you will get the job. And these, once again, are just a sample list--be sure to add your own questions and topics of concern. I am missing issues related to sabbatical leave policies, healthcare benefits, retirement plans, etc., which are more common questions once you have a job offer.

Part 2: 30 Topic areas that you could ask about during phone or face-to-face interviews
1. Faculty Make-up: Describe the faculty and their interests and what courses they each teach. How many people are there? Any adjunct department members? Why or why not? Are there others from related departments I might work with?
2. Faculty Meetings: Describe faculty meetings? Do people get along well? How often do you meet? What is it like?
3. Future Vision and Strategic Planning: Where is the department headed? What plans are there for the next few years and beyond? Are there any plans for additional hires in the department? What is the overall leadership like in this place (deans, department chairs, presidents, etc.? How long has the university president been there? Do you think he will stay?
4. New Buildings and Expansion: What recent buildings have been put up on campus and what is planned for the near future? What building are in serious need of remodeling or replacement?
5. Course Expectations: What courses will I be expected to teach? Are any courses in need of development?
6. Department Enrollment Trends: What are the enrollment trends?
7. Best Things: What are some of the best things about working in this department, college, and university? Why are they the best things? Is there one thing that pleasantly surprised you about working here?
8. Areas Targeted for Improvement: What are some areas that might be improved in this department, college, and university? Do you think any of these will happen soon?
9. New Hires: Who are the most recent hires? Did anyone recent have difficulty when going up for tenure? If so, why?
10. Camaraderie: How is the camaraderie in the department, college or school, or university?
11. Faculty Support: Do faculty get a desktop computer? How often is it replaced?
12. Additional Support: What types of extra support night a first year faculty member receive at XYZ? For example, graduate assistant to help with research, release time in first semester, summer monies for research, extra conference travel, etc.?
13. Research Respected and Rewarded: Is research respected and rewarded here? Is so, how is that displayed?
14. Internal Grants: What types of internal grant funding exist? Can you give me examples of grant projects for research or course development that have been supported?
15. External Grants: What types of external grants are people in the department and college or school getting?
16. Classrooms and Technology Support for Teaching: What are classrooms like and technology support for when integrate technology in teaching? Any course management system or other technology that I would be expected to use?
17. Teaching Respected and Rewarded: Is teaching respected and rewarded here? If so, how is that displayed?
18. Semesters or Quarters: Are they in a semester or quarter system?
19. Summer Teaching: Do summer teaching opportunities exist?
20. Service: Are new faculty protected from being placed on too many service commitments?
21. New Faculty Mentoring: Is there a program in place for new faculty mentoring? If so, what kind of program is it? Describe how new faculty are mentored or could be mentored.
22. Course Management Systems and Online and Blended Learning: How many faculty are using Blackboard/WebCT/etc.? In what ways? What classes, if any, are taught online? Any blended learning examples?
23. Outreach: Is all the teaching on campus or is there any outreach expectations or opportunities? Is this a land-grant university where more outreach might be expected?
24. City and Area: What is this area like to live in? How are the schools?
25. Travel and Other Support: Is there any travel support?
26. Student Funding: How are graduate (or undergraduate if a small college) students supported (if applicable)?
27. Libraries: What are the library facilities like?
28. Faculty Union: Is the system unionized? If so, is it required to join it? (there are pros and cons to this)
29. Negotiating Hot Buttons: Are there certain things that are acceptable for a new person to ask for or maybe expected that I would ask for? For instance, in the School of Education at Indiana University a common “hot button” is technology—you can ask for as many computers or laptops as you need and can justify. I was told if I wanted racing stripes on my computer, all I had to do was ask for them.
30. Recreation Facilities: Are there any workout facilities? In the long run, this may be the most important question you can ask. Or, if you are a jogger like me, ask about the percent of roads that have sidewalks for running and jogging paths.

Ok, I hope these are helpful. I realize that there are many more I could list. I also know that these are limited to higher education types of positions--especially for new faculty members. In addition, most of these relate to universities in the United States--in the UK, Japan, Korea, Australia, Germany, Taiwan, etc., the topics of concern and the questions will likely be totally different. But it is a place to start. I must point out that I created this list from my brain, feedback from colleagues, lists and resouces from other places, and so on. Normally, I would provide citations to a few key and specific resources, but here I do not have any to quickly provide. There is no one source for success in job hunting that I am aware of.

Again how might technology help get these questions out? Well, I am using a blog here to spread the word. People can comment on what I am missing. In addition, sample interviews could be podcasted and made available. Or students looking for jobs might post questions like these to a Wiki and negotiate the questions as well as the answers to them. Or perhaps experts might be made available (perhaps retired faculty) who walk one through an interview process using Skype or Google talk. These experts might also respond to questions in a community in Yahoo! Groups or a group in Facebook. Or perhaps some of the best and worst interview practices might be Ustreamed or posted in some other way. Or doctoral students might similate interviews in MSN chat with their colleagues. There are many ways technology can help share such interview questions and procedures so as to reduce the common tension associated with this process.

Good luck to you!

My 7 and 7 Addendum:
After chatting with Stephen Downes, I think there is a need for an addendum to at least some additional caveats to the above list. Here are seven things to consider. First, to really succeed in finding a job (which means that you are happy and the place that eventually employs you is happy), there must be a personal commitment to contribute to the processes, products, ideas, and happenings of the place you are interviewing at. Do not simply go through the motions of an interview if you are lukewarm about it--you are wasting time; both theirs and yours. Second, you must prepare and practice for the interview. Do not walk in cold--look up the place and the people and become interested in some aspects of what is happening there. Third, there should be a sense of joy, passion, and fulfillment that can be derived from the position. Passion! Yes, you must have some passion when in this job or your internal light bulb will slowly burnout. Fourth, you must display confidence when interviewing and also believe in yourself. Fifth, you should have creative and worthwhile ideas that you can pursue in this position--you can be creative and unique in nearly any job. Hec, I was a creative accountant once. Sixth, you should have a genuine willingness and interest in helping others who work at this place as well as beyond it and exhibit a sharing attitude (not a taking one). The higher education world is becoming a place of open educational resources and you can have a role in expanding that in interesting ways. Seventh, there should be meaningful and personal goals that you can fulfill in this position.

There are seven things that the institution or organization doing the hiring should keep in mind. First the job should also offer you a chance to think and reflect from time-to-time. This is where creativity and rejuvenation happen! Second, it should provide for professional development (PD)--no one can survive today without some retooling. Third, and highly linked to PD, there should be networking opportunities to expand your horizons. Fourth, it should be prompt and courteous in telling the candidate where they stand in the interview process. Too often, institutions of higher learning fail to keep job candidates apprised of the state of the interview process; those they have rejected are often not told that. Fifth, there should be no bait and switch--what the job candidate is told during the interview process should be honestly delivered. Too often there are moments when one arrives at work wherein the department chair or supervisor says, "oh, we forgot to tell you about this or that." In my first job in higher ed, I was told that moving expenses would likely be paid for. But when the moving vans came, I got a call that they hired too many people that year and had no money for moving expenses. Moral--get everything in writing. Sixth, they should evaluate the whole person and what they offer. Too often institutions of higher learning look at specific course needs for next year and not long term needs of a department or university. They should consider how that person will grow to be an effective teacher, mentor, colleague, researcher, etc. I have seen too many people eliminated from consideration from their answers to one silly question or from one research talk when they have done dozens of studies and may have simply picked the wrong one to present. Keep in mind, job candidates have at least 20 years of training and education--not knowing who your university president is or what the school fight song is should not eliminate anyone from the job search. Knowing about the city, state/province, country, or region of the world is vitally important but such information is relatively easy to find. It is silly silliness to ask it as a key question (I heard one institution of higher learning did this recently). Adapting to the place will take months or, more likely, years. Not knowing the capital or average life expectancy of people in that region should not be a deal breaker--you can find the answer in 2 minutes in Wikipedia. Caveat: Respect the people applying for a job with you--their journey has been long and they have overcome many a pothole and hurdle to get to this point. Do not simply search for faults or weaknesses; search for strengths, creative drive, and professional passions. Seventh, the company or institution should offer you a chance to shine--to be creative and productive in however that is determined. As Stephen Downes reminded me this morning, the institution or organization does not own you, but must grow you. Or as he put it, the employer (or job situation) should personally empower you and give you dignity, freedom, and autonomy. I am reminded of Google's 20 percent time rule--employees can pursue whatever they want for 20 percent of the their time. This has sparked a wave of creativity at Google and many new products. At IU, I also have 20 percent time (1 in 5 days wherein I can consult for instance). Of course, as a result of this "freedom," I typically work 7 days a week and holidays.

So the questions I list above are just a starting point to prepare for the interview. There are dozens more important things in getting the job and later being happy with it. You must have opportunities for freedom of expression, creativity, connectedness to others such as networking, professional growth, commitment to your ideas, a passion for what you do, and, of course, some humor or laughter when things do not always turn out as planned. Can you find this out before accepting a job? Does anyone list this stuff in their job postings? Not typically. Use the above questions as a guide only. Grants are listed first since search committees at universites in the USA might ask you this first. There is more to success than grant writing, however. Be wary of this focus among your colleagues. Too much focus there has the chance to effectively wipe out all the other aspects of a job that make it worthwhile and valuable to you. This is you we are talking about. (Thanks for the help with aspects of this addendum Stephen!)
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About Me

Name: Curt Bonk
Home: Bloomington, Indiana, United States
About Me: I am a former accountant and CPA and a former educational psychologist. I am now Professor of IST at Indiana University and also adjunct in the School of Informatics. I founded and later sold SurveyShare. As president of CourseShare, LLC, I run around the world training instructors to teach online and give motivational talks about emerging learning technologies. I also write and edit books related to e-learning and blended learning. See bio and vita.

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