Monday, February 18, 2008

Moved to WordPress

Well I've made a move I've been contemplating for a long time - I've moved my WebToolsForLearners blog from here on Blogger to WordPress - because -
  • So many bloggers I admire are using it;
  • It has more possibilities to play around with; and
  • I learn by playing around and it's time for a new "sandbox".
Please read me there -

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Web 2.0 and Responsible Educators

If you read this blog regularly, you will know that I believe setting up your computer as your own PLE (Personal Learning Environment) or as some call it, your PLWE (Personal Learning and Working Environment) is a basic step in being efficient on the web. When I have research time, and sometimes just because I feel like it, I go to the web to learn more and to keep up with what is available and useful for me and for other educators. I see this as basic life and professional research, and something all educational professionals should be concerned about, both for themselves and for their students.
Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!
Although I've been using my RSS reader Bloglines as the source for my "harvesting" for my ongoing learning, recently I find I've been neglecting it somewhat because I go to it after I collect professionally and personally relevant URLs from those I follow on Twitter.
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An aside, I'm proud of the background I uploaded, a photo I took, then manipulated in Photoshop. I plan to continue being seasonal in my background.
The people I follow on Twitter:
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As you can see, I like having visuals along with my text;->

A couple of days ago, I found some interesting-looking material that I didn't have time to read. I added them to my account and tagged them, but knew they could easily disappear into that great reservoir of learning possibilities. So I tried out something I'd read about on Twitter - Instapaper, which allows me to save articles and blog posts to be read later. I have put its link on my personal Bookmarks toolbar, and I save things there, and maybe ;-> read them later. (There are so many choices, so much available!)
Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!
This description of my PLE and my web reading/researching process is a lead-up to, and I hope, a demonstration of, what the two articles I eventually read, and am blogging about, said.
First, from JISC - -

New report reveals the information needs of the researchers and learners of the future

A new report, commissioned by JISC and the British Library, counters the common assumption that the ‘Google Generation’ – young people born or brought up in the Internet age – is the most adept at using the web. The report by the CIBER research team at University College London claims that, although young people demonstrate an ease and familiarity with computers, they rely on the most basic search tools and do not possess the critical and analytical skills to asses the information that they find on the web.
The findings also send a stark message to government - that young people are dangerously lacking information skills. Well-funded information literacy programmes are needed, it continues, if the UK is to remain as a leading knowledge economy with a strongly-skilled next generation of researchers.
This research supports what I have seen in Canadian classrooms, and leads directly to my next quote from David Parry's Science Progress blog post about the use of Wikipedia in academia - I was particularly struck by the following:
It is irresponsible for educational institutions not to teach new knowledge technologies such as Wikipedia. I should probably admit upfront that I am not a scientist by training; my scholarship grows out of literary studies and a concern for how literacy changes in the age of the digital. Wikipedia, or more generally the networked archival structure it represents, alters the way in which we create, share, and record knowledge, and thus has rather significant effects on how we approach education across all disciplines, and specifically in technology and science. Students and teachers alike must understand how systems of knowledge creation and archivization are changing. Encyclopedias are no longer static collections of facts and figures; they are living entities, and the new software changes the rules of expertise.
When I hear debates about the digital divide, access is often the largest issue, as if merely having access to computers solves the problem. “Bring computers into the schools and fund technology” are the regular solutions. However, the technology here is merely secondary: what is more important is teaching people how this technology changes the social sphere so that students too can be empowered to engage the polis rather than being passive users of Word Processing programs. Knowledge of how to indent paragraphs on a computer or make bullet points for a Power Point presentation is meaningless without the more important literacy of how to use these new media collaboratively to create a different kind of knowledge. Literacy in modern society means not only being able to read a variety of informational formats; it means being able to participate in their creation, with Wikipedia serving as the marquee example.
I suggest that you read the whole post, especially if you think you disagree.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Book-Reading Online

I have put a book up online, where it can be read easily and comfortably, even aesthetically. Let me introduce how and why.

My high school typing class was pre-electric typewriter, and what I learned was that I was lousy at typing and I hated it. The first time I saw a student who was a struggling writer learn how to use the Bank Street Writer, an early word processor, I knew writing with a computer, where I could correct without re-copying, was for me.
I was introduced to dos, and I hated it! Even when I copied out step-by-step instructions, I still frequently had to ask for help. Mild dyslexia might have been part of this, and only a very strong pull to write kept me going back to this early computer system.

When the college where I worked introduced Windows, I was delighted to discover the GUI - that is, the Graphical User Interface! (Imitating the visual and user-friendly Mac)

As a writer and a writing & communications teacher, I began to see what a profound communications tool this was. Mentored by two women who were computer experts, I began to play. I created a website using Netscape Navigator's Composer (I love WYSIWYG) and managed to learn about computer and web use for communicating without ever learning anything but a few dribbles of HTML code.

If you are wondering what this had to do with reading books online, be patient, just a little more introduction;->

I had come to believe that we, my generation, were living through the most profound change in communications (and therefore of human culture) since the printing press. I returned to school determined to write a thesis both about and demonstrating the learning required for, and the impact of, the personal computer and the web. I was lucky enough to have Dr Patrick Diamond supervise me as I wrote an autoethnographic arts-based narrative inquiry, probably the only way I could actually demonstrate the possibilities of word-processing and the web. I would have made my thesis multimedia, if I'd had the skills required at that era (2004). I was happy to settle for using a variety of fonts and layouts, each conveying a different "voice" (inspired by authors such as Stephen King in Misery) and lots of screenshots.

I sent my thesis out to some academic publishers, who rejected it. I knew that the extensive use of different fonts and coloured screenshots would make it very expensive, and that in itself, made it unlikely to be published. After a couple of years, I investigated what it would cost to publish through lulu; too much.

A few days ago, someone on Twitter, (sorry I forget who) referred to issuu. I looked at it. I was struck by four things:
  1. It kept the appearance of my pages intact;
  2. It suggested the aesthetic experience of reading with a beautiful page-turning animation;
  3. It accepted even very large pdf files; and
  4. It was free.
I uploaded my thesis and embedded it in the previous post in this blog. I had some struggles with the size of text and moving through it, but it was beautiful. I mentioned my blog post in Twitter and Ignatia responded, and expanded in her blog - - and I discovered Scribd . (Thanks Ignatia.)

I liked four things about Scribd :
  1. It kept the appearance of my pages intact;
  2. It was easy to move through the text;
  3. It accepted even very large pdf files; and
  4. It was free.
So my thesis is up on both issuu and scribd.

I'd love to hear what you think of both issuu and scribd, and maybe even of my thesis;->

Friday, February 08, 2008

Losing My Web Home

Gratitude and acknowledging what I have been given are important values for me, and, while I appreciate the space I have here on Blogger, my first web community, my first web home, was Elgg/EduSpaces. On my most recent birthday, I wrote about it, and the community I am/was part of there:
A year earlier, I had described why I liked Elgg/EduSpaces so much, and quoted some student comments about it.
Now the EduSpaces community is being migrated to another home, and I am grateful that Elgg's creators have set up that solution, but I can't help feeling that something important is being lost, so I am grieving.

Change happens; I know that. And some of my EduSpaces Friends show up on Twitter, and I will find their blogs so I can continue to follow them through RSS, but my first web home, where I learned so much about web possibilities, will be dismantled at the end of this month.

I've already have a number of web spots outside of my elgg/EduSpaces nest, for example this blog, but I will miss the nurturing I experienced in my first web community, and I thank Dave, Ben and Misja for what they have given me, my Friends, and my fellows.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

For eNews Junkies

For those of you who are fascinated by this American electoral process, the BBC have a very comprehensive site - - where American bias is less likely.

For Canadians and those interested in copyright news, I recommend THE most knowledgable person in Canada on Canadian copyright legislation, and elobbyist for a democratic web - Michael Geist.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Learning by Ear

I grew up listening to my mother play piano "by ear". She'd taken piano lessons after her older sister and heard her practice all the pieces she would be learning. After a few lessons the teacher told my grandparents that there was no point in paying for piano lessons for my Mom, as she was playing "by ear". She could play any piece after hearing it a few times so she didn't need to learn to read music. She played beautifully, and very expressively without the benefit of lessons.

94samick.jpg (JPEG Image, 1681x1607 pixels) - Scaled (46%) via kwout

A few years back, fellow teachers and some students began to talk about visual, audio, and kinesthetic learners, declaring that each person favoured certain senses for taking in information, for learning. With the advent of the web with its sight and sound possibilities, learners can choose to learn through a variety of media, and perceptual channels.

Podcasting specialist, Donna Papacosta, in her Trafcom News blog, links to the Online Education Database, where you can listen, for free, to speakers, using iTunes U, on topics like Human-Computer Interaction, Engineering Ethics, or a wide variety of others, from universities such as Queen's , Harvard, and the University of Glasgow. If you see yourself as an auditory learner, (cross-sensory phrasing deliberate) or simply would prefer to listen rather than read while commuting, check out the Online Education Database

Friday, February 01, 2008

Google Searching Tricks

Every so often I see a blog post that I want to not just save in my account - - but I want to actively learn how to use. LifeHacker's Top 10 Obscure Google Search Tricks is one of those. The list starts at 10, and, although I'd re-order a couple of the tricks, all of them are more than useful, exciting even.
Here are some of my favorites:

There are other tricks - go to Lifehacker - Top 10 Obscure Google Search Tricks - to see the rest!

Friday, January 25, 2008

"That's The Way We've Always Done It." & Schools

Ian Jukes of has an excellent, easy-to-understand article explaining why school reform is so necessary and so difficult:

Ian Jukes article - 1/03 via kwout

I recommend the whole article, especially if you disagree with it - - because the snippit I've supplied doesn't include the logic.

Via Experiencing E-Learning - - final link.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Newpapers and the Web - Influences

I'm finding it fascinating watching how the web is influencing the look and structure of newspapers. By the 1940s, magazines with their frequent images had begun influencing newspapers, as pictures became frequent, especially on the front page.

f0d7_1_b.JPG (JPEG Image, 400x300 pixels) via kwout

Readers read by glancing at various headlines and choosing articles, and often reading only a bit before moving on to another, or back to a previously started one. In some ways, the layout of these midcentury newspapers predated the glancing way people currently read web pages, as seen in this reading map of webpages:

F-Shaped Pattern For Reading Web Content (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox) via kwout

spapers appeared to be more influenced by the layout of magazines than by the web.,_Globe_and_Mail_cover.jpg

250px-Liberal_Landslide,_Globe_and_Mail_cover.jpg (JPEG Image, 250x405 pixels) via kwout

However over the past year I've seen changes that I attribute directly to the influence of the web. While many people I know would think that I was making a negative and critical statement about the changes in newspapers, I am not. I see these changes as intelligent awareness of the impact of the web on how we read. I also see them as making newpapers both more attractive too, and more likely to be read by, the digital generation, a real positive.

The first change I noticed had to do with the numbering of the newspaper sections in the Toronto Star. All my adult newspaper-reading life, the sections had been numbered by using the letters of the alphabet. I knew where to find the comics because I could find the section labelled 'F' right after the section labelled 'E' and before 'G'. I was used to that. Alphabetical indexing was a well-established structure (which developed as a result of the invention of printing, but that another story.) Then some time ago, something called "tagging" was invented for the web, because linking is part of how the web works. This resulted in people expecting a "label" that was also a "keyword".

When the Toronto Star switched from alphabetical labelling to a kind of tagging of its sections, I didn't notice at first. The logic of labelling the Sports section 'S', and the Life section 'L' made immediate sense to me, and I'm sure to almost everybody. The first section remained 'A' and the, usually second, World section became the variation 'AA', but the Business section was 'B' even though it was rarely, if ever, second. Perhaps not verybody sees this change as influenced by the web, but I do.

I challenge anyone to deny the influence of the web in the way today's front page is laid out. - Today's Paper via kwout

Pictures catch the eye first, and the text is there to support the information in the pictures, just as on well-designed web pages. Then it's almost as though headings were hyperlinks, that you could click on (read below) for more information. The information is conveyed initially by the graphics, and the text is augmented further by graphics.

Our culture is becoming more visual in the representation of information, and was even before the net. The increasing use of photos as part of newspapers and magazines grew steadily during the 20th Century, and was indirectly augmented by movie and tv. We like visually conveyed information and attractive graphic design, and the smart communicators know that. And, the side of the newspaper and web connection I haven't mentioned, the fact that I collected all my images from the web and are publishing them on the web, even though what I'm observing is newspapers!

Also posted at

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Has the Computer and the Web Changed Writing?

I was at a session for writing instructors today; we were discussing whether we could actually teach students how to edit their writing. As we talked about our various approaches, I remembered the room I boarded in my last year as an undergrad. I remembered how small it was and how the roof sloped over the bed so I had to be careful sitting up or I could bang my head. I remembered the really small table and how I did my editing on the floor, on the throw rug, usually after midnight before the day of the class it was due.

I would have books from my university library or the local one piled on my bed. I would have recipe cards with the names of the books I was quoting from and/or using in my bibliography in a pile to the side. I would have another pile of cards with useful quotes copied out onto them fanned out in front of me on the rug I was kneeling on. Lots of blank pages and scotch tape would be in front of me too, and my rough draft on my knees as I cut it into stripes so I could restructure it. I would lay out the stripes of paper and the cards with my quotes in the order I thought would 'work', then I would read through the collection and rearrange it a few times, before finalizing. I would write out new bits in between and then tape the stripes or cards that fit in next on the page. I would end up with several very messy, floppy pages, carefully numbered so I wouldn't get the order confused.

Then I would move to the small table that served as my desk, get some fresh paper, and begin copying out my essay by hand, on every other line. I hated doing the bibliography; I could never remember where the periods, commas and semi-colons went, and I couldn't believe it was all that important. And I knew I was a poor speller but often defiently refused to look up words. (At 3:00 a.m. I often felt defiant.) I used White Out too often, and did the covering page last, often as the sun was rising. Then I had breakfast and staggered through the day until whenever class was, when I handed in my essay in person, as required. Then I crashed!

I suspect some of today's students have a somewhat similar pattern in terms of timing. But let's look at some of the details of their process. Today almost all students will have, or have access to, a computer, and their rough draft will be written using a word processor. They will also use the computer for research, using the web to access web sites, some available on the open web, but also some found using Google Scholar or other academic search engines. Some will use Google Scholar as a portal into their university's online resources and journals, if their university has added their library to the Google network, and if the students have their student number and the password. Some will order books, using the deep selection available online through sites like Amazon and Indigo rather than local bookstores. Some will have books from the library, but chances are they will use the web to check and see if the book was available and perhaps to put a hold on it.

Some students will be using their account or some other social bookmarking application to collect their online resources and tag them with helpful labels, including, perhaps, the name of the course or the essay topic. Some of the more (web 2.0) sophisticated students may be using the research tool, Zotero, a free Firefox extension.
Even if they find Zotero too web bound for their taste, they will be writing up their notes and drafts using a word processor. Copying and re-copying text writing by hand or by typing is just too onerous. They will copy & paste, not kneeling on the floor using scissors, paper, recipe cards and scotch tape, but by using keystrokes or clicking on menus. They won't be getting defiant about their spelling, they will just right click on the words underlined in red, and then click on the correct (we hope) word to replace it. They need to learn new skills with this new tool, like making sure that the word they chose is, indeed, the word they mean. And they will have to be taught to double-check what happened when they copied & pasted. It's way too easy to leave a word dangling or the wrong form of the verb sitting there after the copy & paste, (especially at 3:00 a.m.!)

When they get close to the final draft, today's students should be pushed to print their work up, read it out loud looking for typos, and doing a final proof-reading to make corrections. When they have made the corrections, they need to make sure they have the font specified by the professor, and the line-spacing. There are more things to check for in word-processing, even though it looks neater and, therefore, deceptively as if it is correct.

The title page can be done minimally, or almost graphically designed, if the student is sophisticated enough to understand that it will likely influence the prof's attitude toward the paper even before he or she reads it. And what about the bibliography? Even if today's students haven't taken the time to use Zotero's many tutorials to learn how to use it to cite, there are ways to make creating a Works Cited or Bibliography section that are much easier than I had it back in the pre-web days.

BibMe is one of the many web-based automatic bibliography-makers that makes this final stage much easier.
Getting to class and turning the essay in isn't the same either. Some profs, sometimes, accept the essay by email, which means that s soon as today's student attaches the final file and hits "Send", it's bedtime!

In the years since I was a student the phenomenological aspect of writing an essay has changed phenomenologically! Do those assigning and/or teaching writing understand that and help the students cope with these differences?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008 - Effective Social Bookmarking

One of my favorite aspects of the web is the ability to link to other sites. My favorite part of being able to link to other sites is the capacity to store, organize, and re-find those sites using tagging, and social bookmarking. (If you aren't familiar with these terms and actions, I've linked backup information at the bottom of this post.)

As part of collecting and organizing links, I'm always watching for links I can learn from, and share so others can learn from them to (and to avoid unnecessary reinventions of already well-made wheels.)

In that vein, I offer this link from


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Knowledge and Learning - Graham Attwell

I find Graham Attwell's (research-based) thoughts on how learning occurs now fascinating.
SlideShare | View | Upload your own

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Skitch - An Easy Tool for Pictures - Macs Only

Skitch Beta, a Mac application, is free and a lot of fun. It's almost worth buying a Mac just to get a copy;-> I've been using it to add pictures to my edublog - here and here. It works well with Flickr, my photos, and screenshots. Unfortunately, it isn't available for PCs yet.

You can see the screenshots that I simply dragged onto Skitch, which made them .jpgs, and the two places I could either click to drag the image onto the desktop or another page, or with two clicks get a Skitch webpage opened - and simply click to copy and paste it into the post using Blogger's image icon
To learn more - go here - - and request your own version - if you are on a Mac.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Using Styles for Academic Papers, & Zotero for Research

Writing essays, papers, dissertations and other academic pieces is (or should be) radically changed by two tools:

  1. the Styles tool in word-processing;
  2. Zotero, the Firefox researching tool.

Teachers who have your students research and write, take note: your students need to learn how to use these tools, consequently so do you;-> There's an article on the Next Generation of Bibliographic Manager in the latest issue of Innovate, a journal of online education. You can register for free and get an email notifying you whenever a new issue and the related podcasts are available. I recommend it, especially if you plan on getting further education yourself. (Most of the links to tutorials below come from the article on the bibliographic manager, Zotero.)

The Styles Tool

The name of this tool confused me for a long time and I initially avoided it. Luckily, one of my students took the time to explain it to me, and I immediately set out to lean how to use it because I could see how time-saving it would be. Here is a brief explanation of what Styles is and why it's so useful: Although this demo is based on MSWord, a version of Styles can be found on the free office software, NeoOffice, and on the Mac iWorks word-processor, Pages.

Just the automatically generated and clickable updating of a Table of Contents is worth the time it takes to learn how to use Styles. Not to mention the fact that it is simply part of a professional writer's skillset.

Managing Research and Creating a Bibliography

You can get a sense of why Zotero is so important and useful by checking out this Zotero Quick Start Guide, especially the two brief videos.

While I recommend getting students using Zotero ASAP, some easier bibliographic tools, without the research component, are the following:

So get ready for writing your own academic pieces and helping your students write theirs by learning about these tools and practising using them.

Cross published at