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!