Chronicling the vernacular and the middlebrow in post-digital culture.


Teaching Just-in-Time Software Skills – A TLDG Report

May 20, 2020
Frederik Lesage

Thanks to a Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG) awarded in the Spring term of 2018 (click here for project summary), our team set out to improve a third-year undergraduate course titled CMNS 354 Social and Communication Issues in Design that was regularly taught by Dr. Frederik Lesage in the School of Communication.

Our initial objective was to redesign the course to provide students with custom learning support for software skills to help them complete their assignments. We started with a working hypothesis that ‘just-in-time’ models might improve the scaffolding that enabled students to choose how to learn software relevant to their needs by giving them access to custom resources when needed. We collaborated with and LinkedIn Learning to develop an innovative course design based on a “learning-by-doing” approach. (Click here to view slides from a presentation at BCNET 2019 about the collaboration.) Over the course of the six research activities spanning 5 months however, the team realised that we were in fact trying to understand an emerging digital ‘hidden curriculum’ in university student life. This research report is an account of our investigation, completed on July 5th 2019, in which we highlight some of our findings and point to future research.


April 28, 2020
Frederik Lesage
Photoshop Technical Communication

We are very happy to announce that the PHOTOSHOP INSCRIPTIONS PROJECT has a new and improved look!

Thanks to the wonderful work of Joey Takeda, Michael Joyce, and Rémi Castonguay at the Digital Humanities Innovation Lab, we were able to create a publicly accessible and more user-friendly version of the web application. We worked with a Joey, DHIL's UI/UX expert to design the means for anyone to access more information about the project and the data created for the project that now includes a public-facing design for the research platform. Anyone interested in learning more about the project can now go through the research platform with data collected and generated to create unique qualitative ‘genre profiles’ for more than 600 YouTube videos about Photoshop.


April 6, 2020
Frederik Lesage

Every once in a while I get an email from a sales rep from companies like Top Hat. These are invitations to sit through a sales pitch about their latest offer for their software to help improve my classroom teaching. Top Hat's features are supposed to allow me to make our students’ classroom experience more interactive by incorporating real-time digital quizzes into my lectures. These features sometimes pique my curiosity but they most often disappoint for a number of worrying reasons. The first is most often their business model. For example, Top Hat essentially works on a kind of course textbook model on steroids: the instructor can (at least initially) create the course using the Top Hat platform at no costs while the students are required to pay for an individual license to gain access to the instructor’s design. Much like a course textbook, students will have a hard time passing the course without paying for it and in this case there isn’t even the option to buy a used copy. Related to this worry is that, once I commit to the platform, there is the risk of it becoming an all-encompassing system for  me to teach my courses. It is in Top Hat’s interest to become my one-stop shop for everything I need to teach my courses once I start using it and, once I’ve committed myself and my students to using it, it makes little sense for me to use other platforms in addition to this one.

I thought of Top Hat the other day when I read an email exchange between some of my faculty colleagues in our department. They were debating what videoconferencing applications might be best suited for dealing with the current pandemic. From where we currently stand it’s increasingly looking like most — if not all— our teaching may soon take place online meaning we have to start seriously considering what platforms to use. Many of my colleagues expressed concern with our University’s preferred (or at least default) choice: the videoconferencing platform Zoom which has received a lot of attention for their loose approach to privacy and their recent security breaches. The goal then is to find a videoconferencing platform that is best suited to serving the specific pedagogical needs of our department.

Ensuring privacy and security for our students are obviously important concerns but I am also very concerned that in the rush to move our teaching online we are unintentionally moving closer to buying into a “complete instructional system”. This worry is not new. Paul Saettler raised the risk of private, for-profit, complete instructional systems in the late 1960s. Referring specifically to primary and secondary school education, he warned that:

“[…]a series of commercial mergers, principally involving electronics companies and publishing houses, for the purpose of designing complete instructional systems which provide for integrated materials and supporting equipment, for the training of teachers in their use, and for the testing of the learner. School districts purchasing such instructional systems or materials literally “buy” the educational objectives and instructional techniques built into them.” (Saettler 1968, p361)

We’re certainly not there yet; the current discussion is more focused on potential forms of online instruction then on finding content. But the quest for a more secure, integrated, and cost-effective system for online teaching is certainly something that has many potential downsides, not least of which is the kind of vertical integration Saettler warned us against nearly 50 years ago. Universities and governments should be willing to invest in developing their own instructional systems that could provide students with the level of security and privacy they need. In the meantime, the most dangerous decision I think we can make is to commit to any single or complete system for teaching and learning.

Reference: Saettler, L. P. (1968). A history of instructional technology. McGraw-Hill.