3.2 for 32 (VT Run in Remembrance)

18 04 2015

This morning, the Virginia Tech community reflected on the lives of the 32 students and faculty who tragically lost their lives on April 16, 2007. The images below were taken before and after the 3.2-mile run in remembrance.

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ICONSA-2015 Material

2 04 2015

On March 21-22, the IITK-VT partnership held a successful Workshop in Delhi, India, to launch the Initiative for Construction Safety Awareness (ICONSA-15). We have uploaded a series of photos from the event to the ICONSA website and have posted the presentations that were given by the participants. These items can be accessed by selecting the images below.

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ICONSA-15: The Initiative for Construction Safety Awareness

11 03 2015

With India poised to make a significant investment of resources in the creation and maintenance of infrastructure, there is an urgent need to ensure that this investment does not come at the expense of worker health and safety. On March 21-22, the IITK-VT partnership will be holding a Workshop on the Initiative for Construction Safety Awareness (ICONSA-15) that will bring together national and international stakeholders – contractors, owners, regulators, and academic institutions – to explore different aspects of construction safety and identify strategic opportunities to advance awareness and research on this critical issue. The participation of this broad stakeholder group will ensure a discussion on the latest state of practice with regards to the formulation and compliance of appropriate standards and legal frameworks.

ICONSA-15 is being organized by the Department of Civil Engineering of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur and Myers-Lawson School of Construction-Center for Innovation in Construction Safety, Virginia Tech, and will focus on various aspects of construction safety studies. The event is also being supported by the Delhi Chapter of the National Safety Council of India and Indian Institute of Technology Delhi.


Google Apps Features Wish List

27 02 2015

Over the past year, I have used a range of Google Apps to support my courses at Virginia Tech. While these Apps have transformed the way I approach the delivery of my courses, I believe there is room to further improve the Apps to help faculty/teachers create a flexible and integrated course platform.

In this post, I list the Apps I currently use and provide my wish list of features that I’d like Google Apps developers to consider creating.

2015-02-26_1324Google Drive: I share course-related material with students enrolled in my courses via Google Drive. Each course folder typically consists of Syllabus, Readings, Slides, and Sharing subfolders. The files saved in the first three subfolders are ‘read only’ to protect the integrity of the information/data. Students have full editing rights for the Sharing subfolder, which is where new material, Google Docs, Google Sheets, etc. are saved.

  • Feature Request: I would like students who officially enroll in one of my courses to be ‘automatically’ added to the course folder on Google Drive. The development of this feature would require close collaboration with VT’s Computing and Technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies (TLOS) groups.
  • Feature Request: I would like to have one interface where I could assign all the viewing/editing rights to each folder/subfolder for all of my students. This would save me from having to assign these permissions when viewing each folder/sub-folder.

Google+ Community:  I use both public and private Google+ Communities to share information and support course-related discussions/exchanges (both inside and outside of the classroom). The decision to make a community public or private is primarily based on the subject matter. However, I have found that private communities enable me to consolidate all of the Google Apps in use in one location, which is more difficult in a public setting since non-VT students frequently request access to course resources that are linked to a community.

  • Feature Request: The Google+ Community is the epicenter of my courses. Right now I link other Apps – such as a Google Drive folder and Google Classroom – to each community by adding a URL link to the description of the community (see the image below). It would be useful if I could connect these Apps in a more explicit way – i.e., have a dedicated area/space near the top of the community where all related Apps can be more clearly shown. The same ‘connections’ area/space should be added to Google Drive, Google Classroom, etc. to enable a seamless transition between Apps. This feature grows in importance as the number of Apps being used to support a course increases.

2015-02-26_1321Google Classroom: Used as an assignment management tool. This App streamlines the sharing of files and enables me to privately send grades to the students. This App is also the most underdeveloped.

  • Feature Request: I would like to be able to ‘add’ other instructors to a course that I have created in Google Classroom. When adding an instructor, I would like to be able to assign this person to all or a section of the students enrolled in the class. If an instructor is assigned to a section of the class, then this individual should only be able to view assignments (in the ‘Classroom’ folder in Google Drive) that are submitted by their students. The primary instructor should be able to view all of the assignments.
  • Feature Request: As with the Google Drive course folder, all students who officially enroll in one of my courses should be ‘automatically’ enrolled in the class in Google Classroom. The self-enrollment feature should be maintained for students who would like to audit a class.
  • Feature Request: As discussed above, there needs to be a ‘connections’ area/space in Google Classroom that enables faculty to link the App to all other Apps being used – especially to a Google Drive folder and Google+ Community.

2015-02-26_1325Google+ Circle: Used to share course-related announcements with students. Each announcement is sent to a student’s email and his/her private Google+ stream.

  • Feature Request: I would like to be able to send announcements/messages to a Google+ Circle or Community directly from my VT email. This feature should mirror the dropdown sharing menu shown in Google+ and YouTube (see the image below).Sharing

YouTube: Used to privately share assignment-feedback videos with students. The videos appear in each student’s Google+ stream. I currently record assignment-feedback videos using Snagit and upload these directly to YouTube, making sure all videos are set to private.

  • 2015-02-26_1321_001Feature Request: Given the volume of feedback videos I manage for each course, it would be helpful if the ‘Video Manager’ icon had a much more prominent position in YouTube so it can be accessed from any page/view.
  • Feature Request: When viewing the “Video Manager” screen (where all the videos are listed), it would be helpful see the name of the individual who was sent a private assignment-feedback video. Currently, the only way view these names is to “Edit” each video, which adds additional time to the process.

Google Docs: Used during class sessions to co-create material and capture student responses to assigned tasks.

Google Sheets: Used during class sessions to co-create spreadsheets and for homework assignments.

Google Slides: Used to manage and develop lecture material.

  • Feature Request: It would be useful if a Participoll add-on could be developed for Google Slides.


While I have not yet used Google Groups, Google Forms, or Google Sites as part of a course, it would be useful if these Apps could be included in any ‘connections’ area/space that is developed.

I would welcome the opportunity to speak with any Google Apps developers who are interested in working on any of the above features.

Future of Library Space + Open Textbooks

26 02 2015

This afternoon I attended the fourth meeting of the Dean’s Advisory Committee (DAC) for University Libraries at Virginia Tech. During this session the DAC members discussed the future of library spaces (focusing mainly on physical environments) and the type of data/information discovery and user experiences that could support research and teaching. What is evident from these discussions is the significant transformations that are underway in libraries around the world and specifically at Virginia Tech. The library experience in the coming decade is likely to be radically different – both from a physical and virtual environment perspective – to what it was a decade ago.

During the meeting, David Ernst (University of Minnesota) and Anita Walz (Virginia Tech) provided an informative discussion on the growing field of Open Textbooks. The slideshow below includes a number of images from their presentation, which outline the need for open textbooks.

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Congratulations Yehyun An!

26 02 2015

On February 24, Yehyun An successfully defended her dissertation entitled “The Operationalization of Capacity Development: The Case of Urban Infrastructure Projects in India.”

Yehyun was a doctoral candidate in the Planning, Governance, and Globalization (PGG) program at Virginia Tech, and over the past several years has been a highly valued graduate research assistant in the IITK-VT partnership on Sustainable Infrastructure Development.


Guru Ghosh, Ralph Hall, Yehyun An, Michael Garvin, and Yang Zhang

Yehyun’s research explores the concept of capacity development (CD) in the context of a large urban infrastructure program in India – the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). Her research utilized a unique combination of qualitative and quantitative methods and (I believe) is the first application of fuzzy-set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fsQCA) in the field of CD.  The findings from Yehyun’s research make important contributions to both CD theory and practice. I have included the abstract of Yehyun’s dissertation below for those interested in reading more about her research.


Since the 1950s, Capacity Development (CD) has been an important component of international development agendas. It established the widespread consensus that the capacity of individuals and organizations is critical to maintaining and enhancing the effectiveness of development projects and programs. A problem, however, is that the concept has been applied without due consideration to how it should be adapted to the local context, making it more of a symbolic gesture. The application of CD to urban infrastructure projects in India is one such example. Recognizing the shortage of urban infrastructure as one of the major impediments in India’s economic growth and rapid urbanization, the Government of India (GOI) launched the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) in December 2005 to provide substantial central financial assistance to cities for urban development over a period of seven years. The GOI expected the JNNURM to reform institutions and strengthen human resource capability related to many areas of project delivery. During its implementation, however, the JNNURM has been confronted by problems related to a lack of capacity. This research reviews the capacity challenges related to the JNNURM program and considers the broader implications for urban infrastructure development in other developing countries.

This research begins with the question “How can CD be operationalized?” From this starting point, the research seeks to reveal the operational values of CD. Following a detailed literature review on CD, capacity factors that are applicable to the urban sector in India are identified and a CD framework is developed. Two research methods – case studies and fuzzy-set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fsQCA) – are adopted to answer the primary research questions. By leveraging the strength of these two methods, this research advances our understanding of the relationship between capacity and development goals such as improving project performance. In the case studies, this research investigates the gaps between CD theory and practice through the lens of practitioner perceptions of CD. In addition, unlike traditional thinking on the linear relationship between capacity and project outcomes, the case studies reveal two-way causal relationships between capacity and project outcomes that form a spiral structure between the project delivery process and capacity factors. Better capacity can enhance project performance and lead to better outcomes, and project performance and outcomes also influence and reinforce capacity in the reverse direction. Moreover, through the fsQCA, this research identified causal relationships between capacity factors and outcomes and demonstrated that the capacity factors generate different outcomes through their interactions with other capacity factors. This finding contributes to our understanding of how capacity is interconnected with development goals.

In summary, this research contributes to both CD theory and CD practice based on a comprehensive approach that not only considers CD at multiple levels (environmental, organizational/network, and individual/project), but also covers different CD subjects such as context, actors, dimensions, processes, and impacts. Through this comprehensive approach, a range of important findings are developed that can help researchers and practitioners operationalize the complex concept of CD.

I served as the chair of Yehyun’s dissertation committee along with committee members Guru Ghosh, Michael Garvin, and Yang Zhang.

Innovation in Teaching Using Google Apps

24 02 2015

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of talking with the PGG doctoral students about life as a faculty member and how I approach the design of my courses. In this post, I thought I’d capture some of the ideas we discussed about my overall approach to teaching.

My teaching philosophy is largely a product of my own learning and research experience. I believe students should be encouraged to think—and approach problems—in an integrative and transdisciplinary manner. I believe that teaching innovation occurs through a process of creative destruction, where new ideas and ways of learning continually challenge, replace, or enhance the old. The challenge, though, is knowing when something is working and why. Thus, evaluating how I can improve my teaching and mentoring of students is a central part of my philosophy.

In 2013, I was invited to become a Google Glass Explorer, which had a profound impact on how I approach my teaching and interact with students. Prior to Glass, my engagement with students was structured, perhaps ‘constrained,’ by the VT Scholar [course management] system and by my scheduled class time with students. I believe the ability to ‘recycle’ my courses in Scholar had the effect of dampening my enthusiasm to radically revise each course. I became aware of this after making the transition to delivering all of my courses using various combinations of VT Google Apps. The ease at which an entire course can be created in Google Drive and changed while in progress is liberating. Students can also take control of the course platform and share information either via a public or private Google+ Community or in a shared Google Drive folder. This process enables students to take ownership of their learning and become teachers in the process. This enables me to focus less on identifying and mastering content, and more on helping students interpret and locate new information, ideas, and theories in their own learning frameworks or value systems.

I now build each of my courses around a shared Google Drive folder and a public or private Google+ Community. I’d recommend using a private community so that links to course-related Apps can be embedded in the community (see the top right corner of the image below). All assignments are managed via Google Classroom. Course communication happens primarily in a Google+ Community or via messages I send from my Google+ account to a Google Circle created for each course. [Note to Google – it would be useful if I could also send these message directly from my VT gmail account.] The Google Circles are important since they enable me to quickly identify specific students when in YouTube so I can send them private assignment-feedback videos. Whereas I used to record these videos using Google Glass, I recently made the transition to Snagit, which enables me to capture my computer screen while providing audio feedback on a student’s assignment. After recording a video (1 to 5 minutes in length), I directly upload it to YouTube from Snagit, making sure the video has a clear label and is set to ‘private.’ From YouTube, I privately share the feedback video with each student. After viewing the video, students are able to send me private comments on my feedback (in Google+/YouTube), which creates a two way dialogue rather than a one way conveyance of information. Since January 2014, I have recorded well over 100 assignment-feedback videos that have been sent to students in six different courses. I am currently working with Mary English to evaluate the impact of this feedback and we plan to publish the results of this research later this year.


A benefit of the Google Apps platform is that it enables the sharing of information from any device at any time of day. I believe learning can occur at any moment, such as when riding the bus or a bike, taking a walk, or even sitting in one of my colleague’s classes! Having a platform that enables students to engage from wherever they are is important. The Google+ community is the medium where students can link the theories/ideas we discuss in the classroom to real-world events. This process deepens their understanding of the material and may result in better long-term retention due to the networked nature of the conversation and information.

As should be evident from the above description, the suite of Google Apps I’m using has ‘freed’ my approach to teaching that is now more fluid and flexible. However, now that I have complete control over my courses, I also need to manage the enrolment/disenrollment of students from each course. While this process can be a little challenging, once the Apps have been mastered the process is relatively straightforward. The autonomy of the platform has enabled me to explore the idea of letting students be a lifelong member of a course, which I am trying in my sustainability class. My hope is that as students progress through their professional careers, they will re-engage with the course when they have something to contribute or if they want to refresh or update their knowledge. This approach to delivering a course could advance a learning model that is truly lifelong.

In summary, my experience with using Google Apps has led to one significant realization. The systems we use to support our teaching can either enable or inhibit innovation in teaching. Those systems that can be easily integrated and adapted are likely to survive, whereas those that constrain creatively are likely to stifle innovation in teaching. While Google Apps are not perfect, their flexibility and ease of use means that it is more difficult to become locked-in to a system or way of delivering a course. I have full autonomy over how I administer, structure, and approach my courses, which I believe is the key to teaching innovation.


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