Another non-course

Chatting with the program director tonight over dinner, I discovered that my “Locative and Mobile” course is unlikely to “make”–just not enough student interest. This despite efforts to poll the students and move toward something they wanted. Really disappointing, since this was the course I was most looking forward to working on next semester. Luckily, I know now and can stop planning. I now have a bunch of electronic bits, however, that I’m not going to get to use in the course. I will have to use them to build a robot to teach my other courses, I guess.

So, down the oubliette with the beginnings of my syllabus:

Mobile and locative applications

This is a course designed to make you think about the world as a place that is Internet-enabled, and give you some of the skills you need to design for that world. What does it mean to work and play in a mobile world and how does this relate to designing and building applications based on places and interfaces that go beyond the mouse and keyboard?

This course is offered in a peer-based studio format. As part of this course, you are expected not only to learn how to do new things, and demonstrate your ability to do those things, you are also expected to create materials that teach others how to do something new.

This course organizer is Alex Halavais. He is an associate professor in the interactive communication program at Quinnipiac University. More information can be found on his blog:

Course Meetings

The course is scheduled to meet Tuesdays from 6:30 to 9:10. In addition, there will be open studio hours from 4:30 to 6:30 on Tuesdays, in the great room at 430 Mt. Carmel Avenue. You are expected to spend the required hours on the course, but the time spent physically in the classroom/studio is flexible.

Course Communication

There are three main ways we will communicate as a group. The instructional material, badge requirements, and any other course documents will be kept at the course wiki at XXX. We will also be using a mailing list, hosted by Google Groups. Please go to XXX to join the group.

Social Contract

When you sign on as a participant of this course, you promise to:

* Be timely in your interactions with the community. If a week goes by, and we haven’t heard from you, something has gone wrong. If you can be with us physically in the hack sessions, that is best; if you cannot, we should hear from you virtually at least weekly. When it comes to responding to questions relating to the learning objects you design, or asking for evaluation for a badge you have designed, you should be especially quick in responding. I would like you to be willing to respond to requests for evaluation within 72 hours, and I will endeavor to do the same.

* Be here to learn. I know, many of you have a degree to earn, and a job market to wrangle, and the like. However, the purpose of this course is to form a learning community. That’s what is the most important thing for me, and if it isn’t the most important thing for you, please choose another course.

* Be willing to teach. This is a community, and I expect you to contribute to the learning of your fellow participants. I applaud your sponginess, but please honor the community by being willing to help your fellow classmates, and not just take what you can from it. This is particularly true for the badges you author, but across the board, I hope that you are willing to pitch in, answer questions, and help where you are able to do so.

* Strive to acquire the minimal skill set detailed below. That is, acquire the five necessary badges and at least five of the substantial skill badges.

As the organizer of this course, I promise to endeavor to embody those principles in my own work during the semester.


You may have already noted some talk about a badge system. Basically, badges indicate your skills and abilities. If you have ever gotten a Boy Scout merit badge, or been SCUBA certified, or gotten a driving license, or won a Foursquare badge, you already have a rough idea of what a badge is.

For the purposes of this course, we will be focused on badges for particular skills. For example, one of the badges I expect you to earn is the MediaWiki Editor Basic Concepts badge. To do that, you have to demonstrate that you understand how to do some basic things with the markup syntax of MediaWiki. When you submit evidence of having accomplished these tasks, a number of endorsers will acknowledge that you have accomplished earning the badge, and you will be able to show the badge on your home page on the wiki, or anywhere else you choose to do so.

There is an early tutorial on how to earn a badge and how to create your own badges. Anyone can create a badge for anything, and some time during the semester, you will create your own badge.

There are two lists of badges that you should take special note of on the wiki: the “necessary” badges and the “substantive” badges. These are badges that we agree as a community are required for the course, in the first instance, and that represent significant and substantial skills in the area of locative or mobile media in the second instance. If I agree that a badge and associated learning materials are particularly strong, I will add them to the approved “substantive” list.

Expectations, Grading, and Credit

Everyone who enrolls in the course is expected to endeavor to complete all the necessary badges (five) and at least five of the substantial badges, regardless of the way in which they are engaged in the course.

This course is offered for three graduate academic credits at Quinnipiac University as ICM500. If you are not an interactive communications graduate student and would like to enroll for credit, please contact Phillip Simon about arranging to take the course as a non-matriculating student.

As an experiment, this course is also being offered at Peer2Peer University, an open structure for engaging in peer learning online.

I don’t believe the A-F grading system is an effective way of engaging learning or providing feedback. For this reason, anyone who completes the minimum requirements at QU will receive an A in the course.

First, you must complete the following five necessary badges:

* M&L Apps Social Contract Signatory Badge
* MediaWiki Editor Basic Concepts Badge
* Helpful Colleague Badge
* Basic Open Learning Resource Creator Badge
* Badge User and Maker Badge

In addition you are expected to earn a minimum of five substantive badges during the semester. These represent some knowledge, skill, ability, or experience involving mobile or locative media. For example, if your create a piece of hardware that can tweet to the web when something happens in the physical world, you would earn the Basic Sensors badge. In each case, the evidence required to earn the badge can be accomplished by completing materials in the unit(s) associated with the badge.

The initial set of substantive badges include:
* Mobile Web Standards
* Mobile UX
* Kiosk Planning & Design
* Geocaching and Collaborative Mapping
* Geocoded Web
* Google Maps
* 7Scenes Basics
* Basic AppInventor
* AppInventor Web Services
* Blinky Lights (using Audrino)
* Basic Sensors for the Web

It is expected that you will complete the required badges within the time period of the course. Because most badges require endorsements from your peers, continuing beyond the agreed period of the course is impossible. For this reason, incompletes will not be granted. Likewise, if you have not completed a substantial number of badges, including all of the necessary badges, by the midpoint of the semester, you will receive an email from the instructor recommending you withdraw from the course.


As a studio course, this class does not have a schedule as such. However, you are required to complete the Social Contract and MediaWiki Editor badges before moving on to more substantial badges. You are also required to complete all five necessary badges before the midpoint of the semester (for QU students).

Beyond those constraints, you are welcome to engage the material as you like. There are many factors that may influence your choices. For example, you may need to order a book or hardware to effectively complete a badge, and that may take some time to arrive. Likewise, although Google claims a one-week turn-around on AppInventor accounts, if you plan on creating an Android-based app, you should probably apply for that account right now, with the knowledge that it will be at least a week (if not longer).

For work that requires outdoor activities, you may want to wait to later in the semester, or for a warm spell, if you are local to Connecticut.

Also, doing things together is more fun. So, I hope you will chose to work in tandem on projects. Each individual is charged with creating their own evidence for a badge, but if you prefer to collaborate while learning working through the learning units, I strongly encourage it. Particularly for doing things that are community-based, working in a group can be a significant multiplier, and it may be possible to demonstrate work on a communal object.

Texts & expenses

Each badge requires you know how to do something. Materials needed to learn how to do this will be assembled on the course wiki. They may draw from open access materials out on the web, or they be entirely original. Each person who creates a badge should assemble the materials necessary for people to learn the skills represented in the badge.

While these need not be original in all cases–curated materials are fine–at least once during the semester, you must create original, open access materials that teach us how to do something in the mobile and locative realms.

It is important, whether curating materials or creating your own materials to respect authors licenses, copyright, and intellectual rights.

You are going to need web space to host some of the projects in this course–feel welcome to use whatever space works and is appropriate to the need. Likewise, as you are creating your own materials, you will may find that the most current and accessible materials are actually available in books. Libraries can be slow in acquiring such books, so you may find yourself purchasing technical books (or camping out at your local bookstore).

Some of the badges require access to particular hardware or software. A preference will be shown for free and open software, when available, but even open hardware often has an expense associated with it. (I will have a limited amount of hardware you can play with in our physical meetings.) Enough badges will be available that it should be possible to avoid such hardware or licensing expenses, but I hope small expenses won’t dissuade you from learning experiences.

Finally, I do encourage you to collaborate with others in the class to assemble these resources. An Audrino board or electronics kit can be shared among multiple people, as long as you are careful with it, and likewise other resources can be effectively shared.

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  1. Scott J. Messina
    Posted 12/4/2010 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    An attractive concept on a survey or in a lecture setting, but perhaps too vague and ambitious a description for your average lazy student (of which I was one) when it comes time to enroll.

    If the utility for such a course remains in question, I read this post on my phone… in the bathroom.

  2. alex
    Posted 12/5/2010 at 1:56 am | Permalink

    An automatic A should be appealing to a lazy student, if working in an area that actually has employment prospects doesn’t :). In any case, I hope this does not indicate a disconnect between my expectations and interests and those of ICM students, which would be broadly concerning.

    I’ll be teaching the writing course instead. Though there is some likelihood it will become “writing for mobile and locative platforms” :). There is no escape…

  3. complicitytheory
    Posted 12/6/2010 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Oh, Alex. That sounds like such a wonderful course. Exactly the sort of course I want to run at Ryerson. Don’t give up.

  4. Posted 12/14/2010 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Nice course concept. I especially like the badge concept, though I’d be hard pressed to come up with specific pedagogical reasons for it right now. Something intuitively more familiar about structuring the effort/reward system along a badge-based initiative. Interesting approach to teaching. I’d love to see more about how it worked.

  5. Posted 12/15/2010 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    I’ve discovered that titles can make or break a course, with an unknown or confusing term turning off students immediately. I had a class called “Narration in Film & Media” fail to make – the next year I retitled it “Storytelling in Film & Media” (without changing the description) and enrollment was fine. I’d bet that eliminating “Locative” from the title would boost enrollments, even if you make no actual content changes.

  6. monicaiguy
    Posted 12/23/2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    Alex, as one of your students on the interactive communications course, I wish someone had asked my opinion on whether there was enough interest in mobile & locative! It’s the way the world is going – rapidly – and anyone who wants to be anyone in this field needs to be ahead of the game. For what it’s worth, I really hope you can teach this course next year, or at least before I graduate.

    Agree with Jason that perhaps thinking up a snazzy title will up the interest factor. This is a world where outward appearance matters as much as content…

    Do like your Badge system idea, though – hope you can apply that to future courses that you teach.

  7. alex
    Posted 12/23/2010 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I agree with Jason. I thought I was being au courant with the title, but I think it turned out to just be opaque.

    I’ll definitely be working the badge system into my courses, and I’ll make a pitch for teaching both my sections of 501 online in the fall, so I can do a badge/no badge experiment and see which one has better outcomes. (And, of course, write it up.)

    On the electives, it’s hard to gauge. I think there is a move afoot to get rid of the kind of one-off electives that I prefer. In my perfect world, it would be just the opposite, though: two or three required courses, and the rest electives. In fact, I’m going to make a hard pitch for that in coming discussions about the curriculum.

    If I lose that battle, then I will probably start offering 1-credit “courses” focussed on the projects I’m most interested in. Either that, or offer the courses only on P2PU, and offer independent study credits for students at QU who want to take them. In both cases, since it’s not part of my regular load, I wouldn’t have to worry about the courses “making.”

  8. monicaiguy
    Posted 12/27/2010 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Alex, I have no idea what P2PU means, but if you need some student back-up for the mobile/locative pitch, and for the value of electives over required courses… I’m on your side all the way.

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