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." http://www.lib.unc.edu/instruct/manuscripts/glossary/#k) 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 del.icio.us, 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.