Saturday, December 31, 2005

Using Blogs as part of Teaching

Yes the web is overwhelming, and information (knowledge?) management is a huge issue. There are solutions, but it takes a while to find them and then get into the habit of using them. That's the nature of the beast (feast)!

In my opinion, you do have to find a chunk of time almost every day but after the initial surveys of the terrain, you can decide on your focus and stay up-to-date in that area (depending on its breadth and complexity) with an aggregator (like Bloglines - which is free and easy to set up). I found this description of how a teacher could use Bloglines with a class really helpful - After reading it I set up my own Bloglines account and now use it to track the educational blogs I'm interested in, scan their headings, and, if I'm interested in the topic, link to it and get the gist.

Blogs are being used more and more as part of teaching and learning. For a basic understanding of how to use blogs, check out Jakob Nielsen's info - - He's the senior acknowledged expert on web design. provides an overview on using blogs in the classroom with lots of links to explore (Or not ;-> depending on your time and interest.)

Finally, here's a link to a short video describing the uses of blogging in high school -

A friend says -
My feeling is that we have to treat "computer reading" like people used to treat reading the newspaper in the past. It was an activity that occupied a certain part of everyday.

and I agree.


Monday, December 12, 2005

Shifting Semiosis

Two or three years ago I began talking about a "shifting semiosis" and I felt like Cassandra - although I wasn't prophesying a disastrous war, but rather a massive, fascinating and largely positive change. It was clear to me that we were at the start of a change in the way we humans signify meaning that would dwarf the printing press, audio & visual recording, and mass media combined. And now, in my daily newspaper, I find that my intuitive recognition is being substantiated.

I read an article, linked to this post's title, in the Toronto Star, - called Old Idea, New Media. The subheading asks this provocative question -
Are you reading this text on paper, or as pixels? Does it matter? Some think not.

As newspapers realize that they sell content, not ink, their future is taking hold.

I put down my paper and went immediately to my computer and read the same story in pixels, because I wanted to share this increasingly undeniable change. I wanted to blog about it.

The article is about how newspapers are still remarkably profitable (many at 20% a year!)about how newspapers are a natural fit as a web portal, about how the papers' managers are finally beginning to realize that, and about how transportable digital downloads are coming. I picture these as much like ipods in function but looking more like paper or a book.

So, yes, our semiosis is shifting! Not that I expect any more attention to my message than Cassandra got to hers. (In some ways I wish I was more like Paul Revere;->)

The papragraph that electrified me, which follows, clearly indicates that the web is a platform, not a medium.
A newspaper of the future might employ web editors for each section of the paper whose task would be to rapidly accumulate multimedia content relevant to each story. Articles posted on reformulated newspaper sites will be accompanied by related photos, audio and video clips, speech transcripts, discussion forums and archival images from the CBC, CPAC, C-SPAN, the National Film Board and other partners.

Such wonders we are seeing as human communication continues its development
  • from speech and drawings
  • to (chirographic) writing
  • to printed text and engravings
  • to photography, audio recording, film, & television

and now to versions of all of these available asynchronously on the World Wide Web!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Students' Computer Patterns

Here is a current, brief, informative interview with Robert Kvavik on how students are using computers, and their attitudes towards how computers are being used in education. Mitchell Weisburgh quotes Kvavik as saying -
It’s not that tech doesn’t affect learning, it’s that we are only at the beginning of seeing how tech can be used in support of that goal.

I think he makes a truly important observation here -
One of the interesting things with Google is when you ask a question, you always get an answer. But you don’t know if it’s a good answer. So how do you show students how to sort that and digest it so they can tell the difference?

One of the things is that these students have more and quicker access to information than our generation did, but there would be a great benefit to learning how to winnow it out and apply it in a sophisticated way to a problem.

All teachers in all classes should be modelling and teaching how to evaluate the information found on the web, in my opinion, as a part of learning the content of courses.
On course management systems, Kvavik has this to say about student attitudes:
To the extent the faculty uses the CMS so that students can take sample tests, access readings, contact the professor, and submit assignments; the CMS has made it easier for the students. The biggest complaint is that the use is not consistent, it’s only used in about 20% of the classes in a lot of the institutions. Why in one university, would the Poli Sci dept decide not to use the CMS at all while the history dept is 90% using it? Students do not like the inconsistency.

Altogether an interesting read - I recommend it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Academic Research - The Process is Changing

Academic research is changing, just as academic writing has changed with the arrival of the computer. Academic writing is radically different since I was an undergrad many years ago. When I wrote my Ph.D. thesis a year and a half ago, I made rich use of the capabilities of word-processing as an integral part of my writing process. I used Styles for my headings and for generating a table of content. I used the caption feature to describe the images I inserted, and to generate a table of figures. Of course I used the spell checker and the word count and all the flexibility of copy-and-paste. Plus I made sure the font was attractive and readable, and for my particular thesis, I used the font to help deliver the meaning. Writing with a word processor is more fun, more visual, and easier than the ugly old manual typewriters of my youth.

I also used EndNote to make my citing much easier and to generate my "Works Cited", and I paid highly for the privilege; it was expensive. During the process of writing my thesis, I was forced to switch from an IBM laptop to a Mac iBook; (don't ask.) I had to pay again for EndNote to get a Mac version. But anything was better than the picky work of sorting out the anal details of citing the the "Works Cited".

(These days I point my students to easybib where they can generate MLA bibliographies for free and APA for, I think, about $6.00 U.S. a year. Not quite as good as EndNote but much cheaper.)

And now researching and citing is going to get much easier, in the same way creating a document got much easier with the advent of the computer and wordprocessing.

I wrote a couple of months ago about changes coming for the University of Toronto library and for all the Ontario universities - - and today Stephen Downes posted a link to this site - - on the upcoming SmartFox.

SmartFox will enable users, with a single click, to grab a citation to a book, journal article, archival document, or museum object and store it in their browser. Researchers will then be able to take notes on the reference, link that reference to others, and organize both the metadata and annotations in ways that will greatly enhance the usefulness of, and the great investment of time and money in, the electronic collections of museums and libraries. All of the information SmartFox gathers and the researcher creates will be stored on the client's computer, not the institution's server (unlike commercial products like Amazon's toolbar), and will be fully searchable. The Web browser, the premier platform for research now and in the future, will achieve the kind of functionality that the users of libraries and museums would expect in an age of exponentially increasing digitization of their holdings.

SmartFox is being developed by the Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University with funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Being a scholar is becoming more and more about knowledge and ideas and less and less about arcane processes and details. And that's great, in my opinion

Friday, December 02, 2005

Resistance to Teaching Online

Christopher D. Sessums' blog post Resistance is Useful: Thoughts Concerning How to Respectfully Move Teaching and Learning Online a commentary on education in the online age is an interesting and thoughtful piece. He concludes:
Whether you are teaching online or face-to-face, educators are presented with a number of challenges in getting students to adopt skills and demonstrate intellectual and practical dexterity of many complex concepts. We might even say, teaching and learning is all about being open to and coping with perpetual change, taking calculated risks. Many academics view online teaching and learning with suspicion, and rightly so. Today’s learning technologies will revolutionize and affect colleges and universities as we know them. Faculty and administrators should be aware of the changes technology affords and question the implications deeply and critically. This act of looking critically should not stop at the technological level; it needs to consider the entire range of operations that comprise the acts of administration, teaching and learning; from the effectiveness of tenure and promotion policies to the effectiveness of multiple-choice high-stakes student examinations.

I have been teaching in face-to-face classrooms using laptops (for the "mobile" programs) with the web and WebCT, for over six years, and I largely agree with his analysis. However, I am going to comment on two aspects that are probably beyond the scope of his article.

First, the students today write, read, and learn differently than they did even five years ago. (I have an article that expands part of this point at ) Increasingly we teachers will have to learn how to help students learn how to learn in their new semiotic landscape. And we are digital immigrants ourselves!

In addition, the students, even the technologically proficient among them - and that's fewer than many people assume, need to learn critical thinking skills about the sea of content they swim in on the web. This worries me tremendously because so few educators are taking leadership in this vital area, in my opinion. Which brings me to my second aspect ...

The web is a multi-media platform, rich in visuals and sound as well as text. Almost all educators got their credentials in a text-focussed environment. Many of them (us?), I believe, fear the web (quite rationally) because it requires abilities and even perceptual training that they simply don't have. The story of what happened at Sheridan when we put thousands of students - and their teachers - into a mobile environmentover a very few years which I lived through, illustrates the kind of learning community that can develop and support educators in this transition, and how some adapt and some resist, no matter what the circumstances.

I agree with Sessums that the "the entire range of operations that comprise the acts of administration, teaching and learning" need both a critical examination and change as rapidly as possible.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

My Failed Podcasting Experiment

If you click on the title, you will hear my brief podcast on how Walter Ong's concept of "secondary orality" - the orality that comes after text literacy, or with text literacy. I am in the classic learning-by-doing mode. First I used Blogger's Audio-Blogging tool and phoned in a blog. (See the post below.)

For this podcast, I used Audacity to create a recording, and iTunes (on my iBook)to reduce the size of the resulting mp3. Next I uploaded my mp3 file to ELGG, the very interesting learning landscape and eportfolio site, and used the resulting url to link to this blog, in the title.

In order to be able to do this, my learning path has been through reading educational technology blogs (take a look at my Blogroll, below on the right) and learning about podcasts. I sampled some, and then began searching the web to find out how to create one myself. The result, here, came from this searching and reading and trying and cursing, and searching some more and the bright idea (if I do say so myself)of using my ELGG account to host my mp3. I never did figure out how to do enclosures, and I wasn't sure which software might work for me.

So I have more to learn;->

... And I've been editing and re-editing my link to my mp3 file because my initial link corrupted.

... Still Trying

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Trying Out Audio-Blogging!

Using I phoned in this, what should I call it, audioblog, podcast, whatever, with a very few thoughts on Ong's "secondary orality" - of which this is an example!

this is an audio post - click to play

Monday, November 14, 2005

Searching Through Metadata

What I find really, really exciting about the web is the way it allows me to access material. When I'm writing, I sometimes find myself at a loss for a quote that I want to add. If it is in my collection of books, sometimes I can find it, especially if I remember who the author is. But sometimes I just remember a phrase, and not the source. Quotation marks around that phrase and Google allow me to find it easily.

David Weinberger, author of Small Pieces Loosely Joined, about the web culture, (and a fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society) has speculated on the direction of these possibilities. First he points out how we have historically attempted to categorize books:
We've been managing book metadata basically the same way since Callimachus cataloged the 400,000 scrolls in the Alexandrian Library at the turn of the third century BC. Callimachus listed the library's contents on scrolls, Medieval librarians used ledgers, and we use card catalogs, now mostly electronic. But until information started moving online, the basic strategy has been the same: Arrange the books one way on the shelves, physically separate the metadata from them, and arrange the metadata in convenient ways.

In the Boston Globe article this quote is drawn from, he looks at the impact of the web on how we organize our information about books and other information - our metadata:

The real challenge to traditional publishing today comes not from the digitizing of books, then, but from the very nature of the Web itself. Using metadata to assemble ideas and content from multiple sources, online readers become not passive recipients of bound ideas but active librarians, reviewers, anthologists, editors, commentators, even (re)publishers. Perhaps that's what truly scares publishers and authors about Google Print.

Yet what makes me worried is how few people are actually capable of searching in a more sophisticated way. Even the basic technique of adding quotation marks around a name or phrase when you search is not well known.


Friday, November 04, 2005

How We're Using the Internet: Survey Results

Some info gleaned from the Toronto Star - in an article by Tyler Hamiton

"While Internet use has a measurable displacement effect — with some time that might have been spent watching television, listening to the radio or reading magazines and newspapers instead devoted to the Internet — our data support the general conclusion that, for most users, the Internet serves more as a supplement to traditional media than a replacement," the study concluded.

"Internet users, it would seem, are simply more media-oriented than are non-users."

The results are based on a survey of 3,014 Canadians at least 18 years old who answered questions in a telephone interview in May and June of last year. The margin of error is 1.8 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

The study is the first to come out of the Canadian Internet Project, an ongoing research initiative led by a consortium of universities and supported with provincial, federal and private-sector funding.

Here is a chart, also from the Toronto Star, under the link "Survey Results", comparing users with non-users.


Get the Executive Summary pdf from the Canadian Internet Project website.


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

What Do You Want to Do?

People share on the web. It's an attractive aspect of the culture. Phil Bradley has a useful web site. His
"I want to..." Page is especially helpful:
"I want to..." is a page of utilities, such as social utilities, social bookmarking and various other software packages that let you do things. (Added 27/10/05)

Definitely worth Furling and/or bookmarking.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

For Math Phobics & Math Teachers

Courtesy of WWWTools for Education

'Aesthetic computing' turns algebra into art by ZDNet's Roland Piquepaille -- The concept of aesthetic computing can be used to teach algebra by encouraging students to express equations as pictures or stories. This approach aims to make abstract ideas or algebraic formulas look 'real' through drawings, sculptures or computer graphics.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Scanning & Gisting - Reading on the Web

We scan through information and catch the gist. Then, if necessary and/or interested, we can slow down and read a particular piece, or in a particular area, more deeply. Deep and/or close reading and scanning & gisting are separate, though connected skills that can be learned and practiced. The Web and the Information Age requires a broader set of reading skills, in my opinion.

George Siemen's post, "The Joys of Shallow Thinking" in his Connectivism Blog describes it well:

What happens when we change how we interact with information? We "ramp up" our processing habits. Instead of reading, we skim. Instead of exploring and responding to each item, we try and link it to existing understanding. We move (in regards to most information we encounter) from specific to general thinking…from deep to shallow thinking. Shallow thinking, in this sense, isn’t as negative as its connotations. Shallow thinking (perhaps I need a better phrase) involves exploring many different sources of information without focusing too heavily on one source. Aggregating at this level helps us to stay informed across broad disciplines. So much of education intends to provide “deep learning”. Often, however, “shallow learning is desired” (i.e. we want to know of a concept, but we don’t have time or interest to explore it deeply). All we need at this stage is simply the understanding (awareness?) that it exists. Often, learning is simply about opening a door…

And Bloglines, or other aggregators, facilitate the process.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

"Participation Engenders Competence"

For an inspiring description of the impact of students writing on blogs, see Konrad Glogowski's post in his Blog of Proximal Development.

He says -

When I think of blogs, I think primarily of what this technology enables my students to accomplish. When I look forward to reading their entries and comments I am really looking forward to thoughts made visible.

And so, when they write, I don’t want the journey to end with me as it inevitably does when the teacher is the audience. I want to be part of the collective journey. I want to lurk and see how my students develop their ideas. I want to see how conversations grow. I want to hear their voices booming through their entries. You can’t have that when you’re busy correcting spelling and fixing sentence structure.

My approach to marking has become more holistic. I’ve discovered that students who participate in communities of learners begin to care about their writerly voice. Gradually, what emerges is greater awareness of how to make that voice heard and how to effectively communicate one’s ideas. The most valuable part of this community is that this awareness emerges as a result of online interactions, of hundreds of entries, comments, and connections made online as part of a collective journey. It comes from within because the students need it to emerge. It is a practical skill that they need to keep contributing as members of the community. It is not imposed by my rubrics.

Check out the whole post.


Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Implications of the Web for Post Secondary Institutions

From the Toronto Star, October 25, 2005

You know a diploma is worth less and less. Soon it's going to be worth nothing at all.

If you've just completed an undergraduate degree you might not want to hear what Mississauga-based futurist Jim Carroll has to say.

"For young people I think one of the things they will need to understand is the skill of `just-in-time' knowledge," says Carroll, who advises companies across North America.

He explains that "just-in-time" knowledge is the skill of learning information during quickly advancing periods of change. The information learned is entirely — and possibly only — relevant at a specific time. Learning it will require people to immediately dump previous information that is no longer relevant at the same time.

"The concept of going to school for knowledge is kind of quaint," says Carroll, who foresees a future when longer degree programs will become almost obsolete. "What is the relevance of a three or four or five-year degree program when half of what kids learn in their first year will be obsolete by the time they graduate?"

Carroll says the majority of knowledge needed in the workplace of the future will be gained from collaborative social networks, online sources and independent learning.

As far as formal education goes, he doesn't think many degree programs will be longer than about nine months.

"A survey I saw a couple weeks ago said young people now think self-employment is more secure than a corporate job.

"As young people continue to completely reject the concept of the traditional workplace they will also move to educational models that suit their relationship with a changing work world."

In many ways the educational system has avoided the Web and left young people to make their own way through it. Most of them have discovered peer-to-peer file sharing for music, and some of them have discovered porn. Few know much about how to evaluate the trustworthiness of sites, or understand either the law or how easy it is to see what they're doing on the Web.

We need to teach ourselves and all our students
  • how to apply critical thinking to what we find on the Web
  • how to research effectively on the Web
  • how to use library databases
  • how to use the Web as a learning tool/medium

My observations lead me to believe that we educators are abandonning many young people to discover the Web on their own, without our guidance, in the communication space they increasingly inhabit. Jim Carroll's prediction will come true for sure, if we don't join these digital natives, and share what they need to learn, while learning what they can share with us.


Monday, October 17, 2005

Are Blogs a Genre, or, Are there Genres of Blogs?

What do readers of blogs expect? Do they expect a certain kind of prose? Do they expect images? Is (Are) there (a) distinct genre(s) visible in blogs?

An interesting site - Introduction to Genre Theory - although it's chiefly about the audience construction of T.V. genres has this to say:

Constructing the audience

Genres can be seen as involved in the construction of their readers. John Fiske sees genre as 'a means of constructing both the audience and the reading subject' (Fiske 1987, 114). Christine Gledhill argues that different genres 'produce different positionings of the subject... Genre specification can therefore be traced in the different functions of subjectivity each produces, and in their different modes of addressing the spectator' (Gledhill 1985, 64). And Steve Neale argues in relation to cinema that genre contributes to the regulation of desire, memory and expectation (Neale 1980, 55).

When I post to my blog here, or my personal blog in ELGG, I try to ensure that my tone is casual and I don't use too much theoretical terminology. (Today is an exception, or a new trend. I haven't decided yet;->) I do, however try to keep my spelling and grammar correct and carefully gauge how much personal information I include. I might get a bit more theoretical in the ELGG Pedagogical Impact blog and a little more impersonal. All these writing behaviors have emerged for me from reading other educationally-oriented blogs.

However, when I lurk in MySpace I see a very different blogging style and tone. It's much more casual about correctness, and much more revealing of personal information and narratives. Interestingly, it's also professional in its own way, as bloggers post information about performances and other things they wish to find an audience for. I see it as a different genre of blogging, a more social and youth oriented one.

So my current take on blogging is that it's a collection of related but distinct genres, evolving and taking firmer shape as more people read and write blogs and enact their expectations.

Friday, October 14, 2005

A Screencast on Educational Blogging

Wow! This screen cast really covers what you need to know to engage in educational blogging. Courtesy of Stephen Downes. Uses a big bandwidth and Quicktime - a free download, with Quicktime for Windows on the bottom left.

Check out Brian Lamb's Beyond Blogging screencast if you're thinking about using blogs educationally. He shows you what is possible and what is needed.


Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Lingering Impact of Old Technologies


Which looks better, the underlined heading or the bolded and increased-size heading?

I insist my students use MS Word's Styles to set their headings. I further insist that they not underline their headings. When one student spoke up and complained that she had been taught to underline headings all the way through high school and she thought it looked better that way, I found myself explaining my reasons.
  • Graphic designers generally agree that underlining doesn't look good or increase readability.
  • Most people now associate underlining with linking on the web, not with headings.

And most importantly
  • Underlining titles is a remnant of an antique technology - typewriters - where the only way you could signify that something was a heading was to move the paper backwards and add underlining to the words of the heading. You couldn't bold or increase the size; you could only underline.

So my student had had her eye trained to accept underlining as signifying a heading, and what she is actually signalling is that she isn't effectively using the flexibility of the new technology of word-processing to communicate visually. And people read this kind of information at a close to subconscious level, so she, and others, are actually signalling the lingering impact of typewriters and their resistance to learning the new technology of word-processing.


Saturday, October 01, 2005

U of T versus Google

In the fall 2005 issue of University of Toronto Magazine, Devin Crawley (MISt 2004) writes an article called The Infinite Library in which he looks at the changes in academic libraries, in particular, U of T's. What I found fascinating was his decription of how Google is influencing universities' digital collections, and how access to those collections is changing.

Google Scholar has been, he says, a wake-up call.
Google Scholar, a service started late last year that's still in its testing phase, is the company's first foray into academic research. It allows users to search collections of proprietary electronic journals and a variety of online repositories of scholarly papers. A Google Scholar search on "exosolar planets," for example, returns 54 academic essays on the subject, ranked roughly in order of the number of times they've been cited. Within just a few months, Google Scholar has established itself as a rival to powerful multinational companies such as Thomson and Elsevier that offer huge (and, for libraries, hugely expensive) databases of scholarly material. Some librarians say that Google underperforms its rivals in the currency and quantity of its search results, while others declare that its simplicity is a huge advantage. "Google Scholar works. And it works in a way that presents very few of the hoops that we make students jump through to use our library databases," writes T.J. Sondermann, an academic librarian and prominent blogger on library issues in the U.S.

The web makes information infinitely easier to find and store. Some librarians quoted by Crawley think the generalist search role should be ceded to Google; some see Google's for-profit status as compromising it as an academic research tool. In any case, the impact on students' research behavior of the sheer ease of searching with Google has led to all of Ontario's universities working together to develop
the Ontario Scholars Portal, a single-box search engine that covers 7,300 electronic journals and 65 electronic indexes. ... the library is about six months away from its ultimate goal of tying its print catalogue, databases and catalogued Web resources to a single search. He admits that Google is innovating quickly, but says that libraries – and the electronic database vendors whose products they buy – are beginning to catch up.

It is an exciting time to do research, as more and more kinds of information become accessible and as research skills and tactics change so rapidly!


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Blogging and Writing Courses

I have just found my way to bgblogging, Barbara Ganley's insightful blog on why blogging is important. She says -
If we want to encourage our students to use blogging as a powerful communication tool, we have to teach them the difference between blogging as daily diary, and blogging as a way to dig deep into ideas and to grow communities of discourse, of knowledge and of action. So, of course it isn't simply a matter of handing blogs to students as they enter our institutions and saying, go ahead, write; you have to give students a chance to grow in this work within a learning community--the new wall-less classroom--and then turn them loose to develop their own blogging practices within a supported framework. The institution and its faculty must mentor and model this practice of reaching out in the world to discuss and share ideas, ask questions, and work collaboratively. In other words, it is in the second-wave blogging, the blogging that my juniors are doing out in the world as a way to express, explore and understand the world in which they have been thrust that will teach them huge lessons about the role of communication, of technology, of community in bringing about change in this stumbling world. Indeed, I think that they are achieving what George Seimens, in a recent post, is calling learning ecologies:

The whole article is worth reading; I recommend it.


Bloglines & "Portrait of a Digital Native"

Tom Mchale's article in techLEARNING gives an interesting glimpse into how students are using technology currently.
Meredith Fear sits in her room doing her homework. Books are scattered about, and a computer monitor glows before her. She is working on two Word documents and has four Web sites open. She checks her school e-mail account, her Bloglines news aggregator, and Furls of an online article for her independent study. She quickly transitions from this to respond to group members on Instant Messenger who have attached PowerPoint slides for an upcoming class presentation.

"The computer gives me a contact to all the people I need to talk to," Fear says. "It's a gateway to the world."

McHale specifically refers to Furl, which I have written about previously,
and to Bloglines, another of my favorite applications.
Bloglines is a news aggregator that you can set up a personal account on for free, which makes it popular with students, if they know about it. It is also popular with bloggers and teachers who have their students using blogs for some assignments.

Once you set up your account, you add the blogs and/or sites you like to follow regularly. Then you can go to one site and get caught up in your web reading. The bolded sites have new material since the last time you went on bloglines, and the number in brackets after show how many new posts.

Once you click on a site, you can read the beginnings of the article on the right. If you are interested in it, you can click on the link, and go to the actual site or blog, here George Siemen's Connectivism Blog.
Bloglines is a very useful tool for the learner using the web as one of their learning tools. Try it, or another news aggregator out;->


Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Blogsphere: A New Discourse Community

I run this blog for two main purposes. One is to become part of the blogsphere and learn more about this new discourse community by joining it. My second, and perhaps dominant purpose, is to have a content thread to follow while allowing my teacher persona to play; I hope to connect readers to the wonderful tools and possiblities being created on the Web. (Sometimes called the Social Web, sometimes the Read/Write Web, or the Web 2.0 - these at least overlap even if the names are not completely synonyms.)

This is a leadin to my excitement at appearing in other blogs! It is also a report on how the blogsphere has worked, making connections with/and for me.

Konrad Glogowski, in his Blog of Proximal Development, referenced my College Quarterly article on Teaching Writing in the Age of Online Computers and linked to my Elgg weblog. I wasn't aware of this when I received an email with some very nice feedback on my article from Gardner Campbell. He mentioned Konrad's blog. I already had it on my Bloglines account, so I went immediately to it and read Konrad's post.

I found his discussion of "nodes", his references to Prensky's term “legacy content” and to Siemen's connectivism to be fascinating, and a fruitful extension of what I have been thinking about. Then I recognized Gardner Campbell's name, and followed Konrad's link to his blog - Gardner Writes, and I discovered that he had referenced and quoted my article!

I have, of course, added him to my Bloglines, and I continue monitoring and responding to these conversations that feed and extend my interests. I am part of this small corner of the blogsphere!


Saturday, September 17, 2005

Scavenging on the Web

Again I sat down on this Saturday to prepare my Monday and Tuesday classes, and ended up spending my whole afternoon scavenging on the Web. I should avoid checking my email first, because that's where I get distracted. A message was waiting for me from www.webtools for Education so I started to check out what was offered. One site led to another. Some I bookmarked, using Furl. Some I emailed the links on to other teachers who might have an interest in their content. Some I simply read through.

Then, already in that rhythm, I opened another email, Stephen Downes' OLDaily - a newsletter on the educational use of technology that comes out every weekday. Again I scanned, bookmarked, forwarded, and read. I was three days behind in reading my OLDaily messages, so I checked through the ones I hadn't got to yet, scanning, bookmarking, forwarding, and reading. At least I didn't go to my Bloglines account where I have over 20 blogs aggregated. I could have spent another couple of hours going through what was new in my collection of education and technology blogs. What a way to avoid getting down to my lesson preparation!

Before I get too hard on myself, I have to look a bit more deeply at what I'm actually doing. While it's true I had intended to think through my lesson and create the Web pages needed to direct my students in class and for their homework, I can still do that tomorrow afternoon. What I did today was research. Not organized, pre-planned research, but scavenging through the massive influx of information that the Web provides.

And it is scavenging! I find Web sites that I can link to the Web pages I prepare for my students. I'd rather find and share information and instructions than recreate them. (I think my students benefit from seeing how much they can support their own learning by finding helpful sites on the Web.) I find Web sites that I can send to colleagues, and thereby keep in touch with them. I find free Web tools that allow me to expand what I can do without spending more money than I've already spent on my computer, the broadband access, and the propriatory software I use. I also find information about teaching theories and practice. I learned a lot this afternoon, as I always do when I research by scavenging.


Friday, September 16, 2005

Free WYSIWYG Web Creation -

I haven't used <MySource> but it looks interesting, especially for businesses wanting to have people update their Websites or Intranets regularly without using HTML coding or expensive applications.

Even if you have no current need for a Web, the Flash presentation - click the monkey on the right or the smaller monkey on the left and down a bit - is amusing and informative.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Why Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is both very handy and an excellent demonstration of how the Web radically extends communication, as compared to print.
As you can see in the screenshot above, Wikipedia is a "free encylopedia that anyone can edit" - an awesome claim for those of us educated in the pre-Web era. In Wikipedia's Introduction it says:
Wikipedia is an encyclopedia written collaboratively by many of its readers. Lots of people are constantly improving Wikipedia, making thousands of changes an hour, all of which are recorded on the page history and the Recent Changes page. Nonsense and vandalism are usually removed quickly, and their creators banned.

So people from all over the world, and in many languages, can add to and edit entries in Wikipedia.I find that amazing! Instead of paying USD $1495.00 for the current Encyclopaedia Britanica, you can use Wikipedia for free.

"But what about its quality?" teachers and others ask. If it's free, and created by anyone who feels like contributing, can it possibly be accurate?

Here is a section from a longer entry describing Wikipedia's reliability:
The German computing magazine c't performed a comparison of Brockhaus Premium, Microsoft Encarta, and Wikipedia in October 2004: . Experts evaluated 66 articles in various fields. In overall score, Wikipedia was rated 3.6 out of 5 points ("B-"), Brockhaus Premium 3.3, and Microsoft Encarta 3.1.[38] (#wp-endnote_Kurzidim) In an analysis of online encyclopedias, Indiana University professors Emigh and Herring wrote that "Wikipedia improves on traditional information sources, especially for the content areas in which it is strong, such as technology and current events."[39] (#wp-endnote_EmighHerring)

A good analogy for understanding the strengths and weaknesses of Wikipedia's approach can be seen in looking at the difference between the standards of courtroom and investigative evidence. The fact that Wikipedia can be edited by anyone makes it difficult to claim it can be trusted with the same degree of certainty as one would expect from courtroom evidence. However, its openness to broader base of contributors allows it to achieve breadth and depth of creativity and connections that make it ideal for learning about and investigating ideas, similar to the way in which the more liberal use of investigative evidence can lead to important leads and further evidence that could have been strangled by applying the rigid standards of courtroom evidence.
Notice that in the comparison, Wikipedia got 3.6 out of 5 points ("B-"), while Brockhaus Premium got 3.3, and Microsoft Encarta 3.1. Wikipedia scored higher than Encarta!

So if you want to find information on a specific topic, you can use keywords ("Single terms or short phrases that best define the main points of your topic. Keywords are used for searching catalogs and databases." in Google and sort through the thousands of hits, or you can go to Wikipedia and get clear specific information that is reasonably trustworthy. Check it out!


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Hurricane Katrina - Hattiesburg

Imagine - if you owned Leatha's Barbeque - what finding out - from the caption of this photo (from Deep Fried Kudzu's photoset on flickr) - that your restaurant was undamaged. That's the power of the social aspect of the Web.


Why wikis?

This from FLOSSE POSSE, a blog on Open Source software for education.
By Teemu Arina - writing about the impact of 9/11 on the development of blogging, and comparing it to the potential development of wikis after Katrina -
This might be a turning point for wikis that sets the wiki revolution free. There are many free tools and many of these tools are so easy to use that anyone can use them. Wiki is one of them. The method of Open Source is the enabler and useful applications like collective distributed disaster help are cases that push it forward.

But as much as these easy-to-use and cheap social tools are useful for large disasters, so are they scalable for a single organization and their own little catastrophies, be it a community of schools, a medium-sized company or a multi-national organization.

To support a business practice in events of failure, we need a bottom-up collective distributed social system to help people to get things done with peer-help instead of straining those who hold the strings. Social tools like wikis, blogs and social networking might as well be the partial bottom-up answer to these communication problems, not a top-down intranet.

This applies to learning as well. If you don’t have a formal way to solve a problem, you will use your informal network of peers to find a way to overcome what you have in front of you. Your knowledge is not necessarily anymore in your head, it’s distributed in your social network and you are beginning to scratch those digital tools that will help you to use it as an extension to your own thinking.

Just like the social aspects of furl, and of flickr allow a new, more grassroots, peer, democratic form of sharing, so do wikis, which I will explore more in future posts.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Flickr & 1000 Words

I saw Flickr's icon shown in the tv news reports after the London transit bombings. Flickr is a photo sharing site where I have an account.

I'm not so sure that a picture can always replace 1000 words, but I am sure that we humans respond strongly to images. Flickr is a photo sharing site which I have an account on where I can store and publish images. There are other photo sharing sites, but Flickr is the best known one currently.

I use it for two reasons
  • to store images online so they are accessibe whatever computer I'm using;
  • to make posting images easy. (See below)

avatar This is my avatar or personal icon. I used Flickr to add it, and I can use Flickr to add images to any Website by simply copying & pasting the HTML code that Flickr produces. I don't have to know HTML code; I just have to know how to copy and how to (and sometimes where to) paste.

Adding pictures to Websites is important not just because it adds visual interest, but mainly because I use a lot of screenshots in my teaching. If you look at the post below, you will see a screenshot of a page in my Furl archive.

Here is a screenshot of the Flickr page with the HTML I copied to add my avatar image, above, to this post.
Notice, near the top, that I set it thumbnail size; the screenshot above is set to medium. Near the bottom, you can see, still highlighted, the HTML I copied & pasted into this post.

I change my screenshots into jpegs before I upload them. In Windows, I use a very easy, free utility called Paint, which is found under Start, under Programs, then Accessories. On the Mac, I use Photoshop, which I don't know much about, but if you open your screenshot in it, you can use "Save as" to change it to a jpeg.

Sometimes I insert a screenshot into a Word document so I can add arrows or words. See the screenshot below, with the grab handles showing.
I wanted to use an arrow - pink and near the top - so I could point out that I use "All Sizes" rather than "Blog this" so I can control the size of the image.

There are many other aspects to Flickr which you can explore yourself. Its social aspect is similar to furl's. You can see the images other people have saved - if they made them public. You can keep your images private, or designate who will see them. Tomorrow I plan on uploading to Flickr some old photos my Mom and Dad let me scan, so just my maternal cousins can see them. I will tag them using the family name.

To return to the beginning, Flickr appeared in the tv news after the London transit bombings because people who were involved in them, and had cameras of any sort, could upload their photos to Flickr. I expect they tagged them with words suggested by the police and/or the police looked for likely tags. Thus, in a very short time, the police had a flood of photos to help them sort out this crime. Beyond the sharing of photos, Flickr, as part of the social web, allowed citizens to provide vital information to the authorities. This is a radically new way to witness!


Thursday, September 01, 2005

Online Social Bookmarking - Why?

I first discovered and explored online social bookmarking to make my life easier - and it has. However social bookmarking is more than just a personal convenience. Social bookmarking tools, such as, are personal knowledge management tools that have at least two significant impacts. In the rest of this post, I will
  • describe why I use furl;
  • show how social bookmarking tools reduce the digital divide; and
  • explain how the social aspect of bookmarking is a unique aspect of the web that contributes to the human learning pool.

Why I use furl

I teach in an institution that has students on laptops, and am issued a laptop to use to prepare my lessons for the Web. As circumstances change, the school will recall a certain model of laptop and issue another. I find changing from one laptop to another annoying, and used to struggle with saving and re-loading my bookmarks.

Plus, sometimes I use another computer, and I used to get frustrated because I didn't have access to the sites I'd bookmarked on my school laptop. I first read about furl in Stephen Downes' OLD newsletter, which I subscribe to. The online bookmarking tool he described sounded like a way around my bookmarking frustrations, so I looked furl up on Google, and set up my own account. I have become, as you can see, an enthusiast.


Reducing the Digital Divide

Online social bookmarking makes it easier for those with limited access to online computers to set up their own knowledge management tools. For those who don't own a computer and/or have one in their home, setting up computer-based bookmarks is not possible. When people access online computers
  • in school computer labs;
  • at work;
  • in libraries;
  • at friends' homes; or
  • in internet cafes
they can still have their own set of saved URLs. The situation is similar to the use of online mail tools, such as Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, etc. Once a tool is online, any computer allows contact with individual's accounts.


The Social Web
The Web is a new communication tool that operates very differently from print. When you use an online social bookmarking tool, you are sharing your research, and you can benefit from others' research too. This is done in two ways.

When you bookmark a URL, you can label it private, make it accessible to people you choose, or leave it public. If you keep your collection, or part of it, private, it's like a library in your home. If you make it accessible only to certain people, it's like the reserves in a library. If you leave it public, it's a bit like wandering in the stacks. Except in all these cases, you chose who the URL is available to.


As you can see in the screen-capture above, when I click on the link I saved in furl, I get a list of links on similar topics bookmarked by others. I am browsing in the "stacks" of all the people saving URLs in furl. I am part of a community of knowledge managers, and I can benefit from their searching, and they can benefit from mine. This sharing among strangers, linked by their interests, is a very powerful aspect of the Web, and one of the reasons it is sometimes called the "social Web".

Someing called tagging is part of this, but I'll leave that for a future post.



Friday, August 26, 2005

Stop Bookmarking; Start Furling

Do you ever have to change computers? And struggle saving your Bookmarks or Favorites files?

Or do you use a different computer at home from at school or work? Tired of not being able to find a site you know you bookmarked or added to your favorites because it's not on the computer you're using?

What you need is an online social bookmarks manager. Here are two free sites that allow you to save links online. Both furl, the one I use, and are widely recommended. Both are easy to set up and maintain.

Once you create an account, you can begin saving links to the sites you might need or want in the future and you'll never have to save and then reinstall a Bookmarks or Favorites file again.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

Blogging Plans

I will be posting information and links aimed at helping teachers discover (mostly) free web tools that they can use to support their preparation and teaching. It will (eventually) be available for aggregators with an RSS feed. (If you didn't understand the previous sentence, all will be explained over the next month.)

I plan on posting once a week.