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